Mulvaney: Trump faces difficulty if 2020 election becomes 'referendum' on him

Former White House chief of staff Mick MulvaneyMick MulvaneyFauci says positive White House task force reports don't always match what he hears on the ground Bottom line White House, Senate GOP clash over testing funds MORE on Tuesday cautioned President TrumpDonald John TrumpMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Trump camp considering White House South Lawn for convention speech: reports Longtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary MORE could face a steep climb to reelection if the 2020 presidential race becomes a referendum on him.

Mulvaney argued in a Fox Business interview that Trump should focus on recent economic gains to make the argument that he boosted the economy upon taking office and could do so again in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.

"If the president can go back to drawing those contrasts between him and Joe BidenJoe BidenMark Kelly clinches Democratic Senate nod in Arizona Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Biden offers well wishes to Lebanon after deadly explosion MORE, that it becomes a race between Trump and Biden, I think the president does extraordinarily well," Mulvaney said. "And he shows people, 'Look, if you hire me, this is what you get. If you hire him, you end up with no jobs.’”

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"If it ends up being a popularity contest or, worse, a referendum on President Trump, I think he’s got some real headwinds to face,” added Mulvaney, who left his White House job in March and is currently an envoy to Northern Ireland.

The president has put his allies on edge in recent weeks by focusing repeatedly on divisive cultural issues and struggling to stay on message. He has called Black Lives Matter a symbol of hate, repeatedly called for those targeting monuments of historical figures to face stiffer punishments, and opposed renaming military bases bearing names of Confederate leaders.

Trump on Monday tweeted inaccurately that NASCAR saw its ratings decline because of its decision to ban the Confederate flag at its events. He also called on Bubba Wallace, one of the sport's top Black drivers, to apologize after a rope tied like a noose was found in his garage stall. An investigation later determined the rope had been there for months and was not an intentional act aimed at Wallace.

Republicans have urged Trump to focus more on criticizing Biden's lengthy record and sticking to the economy as the president's poll numbers sink. A Gallup survey released Monday showed Trump's approval rating at 38 percent, its lowest mark in more than a year. Biden continues to lead Trump in national surveys and battleground polls.