Republicans say President Trump should make a course correction and shift his strategy after a series of dismal polls showed him badly trailing presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

Republican senators thought Trump was cruising to reelection only a few months ago but they now worry his relentless focus on revving up his party’s base is hurting his chances, as well as their own of staying in control of the upper chamber.

“I think right now obviously Trump has a problem with the middle of the electorate, with independents, and they’re the people who are going to decide a national election,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said Wednesday.

“I think he can win those back, but it will probably require not only a message that deals with substance and policy, but I think a message that conveys a perhaps different tone,” he added.

Asked if the polling showing Trump well behind Biden is a wake-up call, Thune said it’s a “message” the White House needs to change its strategy.

“These polls are a snapshot in time and the electorate as we know can be very fluid, but I do think it’s a message that there needs to be certainly a change in probably strategy as far as the White House’s messaging is concerned,” he said.

A New York Times-Siena College poll released Wednesday showed Biden leading Trump by 14 points in a nationwide survey of 1,337 registered voters. Biden’s lead was bigger among some key groups. He held a 21-point lead among independents, a 22-point lead among women and a 28-point advantage among white, college-educated voters.

That’s a problem for Senate Republicans, who see women and college-educated voters in the suburbs as critical to keeping their majority.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), a counselor to the Senate GOP leadership, said Trump’s fortunes have shifted with the coronavirus pandemic.

“Pre-COVID … I thought the president could carry the day with women and college-educated voters,” she said, pointing to the nation’s low unemployment and rising wages at the time.

“With high unemployment and the economy shredded by COVID he needed to adjust his message,” she said. “That’s where he probably began slippage.”

“I’m an American woman, I’ve got three kids and seven grandchildren. I want a message of optimism and hope and that’s the measure I think people are looking for,” she added. “That’s not his A-1 message.”

Capito also said the president should focus on “reinforcing to people where we’ve made great progress” such as “improving economic conditions, more women in the workforce” and the “funding of universities and colleges.”

Other Senate Republicans acknowledge that Trump’s polling raises red flags.

“Does it cause concern? Of course. One always has to understand and recognize the current situation,” said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).

Asked whether Trump needs to overhaul his political strategy, Crapo responded: “I’m not going to give the president advice on this.”

He also said the political picture could change.

“Polls are always — whether they are good or bad — always instructive, but I’ve learned that a poll is taking a pulse in a specific timeframe and they change,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) identified women and college-educated voters early in the election cycle as key to preserving the Senate GOP majority. He said last year that Republicans lost the House in the 2018 midterms because “we got crushed in the suburbs.”

“We lost college graduates and women in the suburbs, which led in the House to losses in suburban Kansas City; Oklahoma City; Houston; Dallas; Atlanta; Charleston, S.C.,” the GOP leader told reporters last April. “We’re determined not to lose women, certainly not by 19 points, and college graduates in our Senate races. And I don’t think we will.”

Polling released Wednesday shows that Democrats could again have a massive lead among women and college graduates in an election year where the GOP is defending 23 Senate seats while Democrats only have to protect 12.

Other polls have contributed to the GOP gloom. A Fox News poll earlier this month found Biden leading Trump by 12 points, 50 percent to 38 percent.

A Reuters-Ipsos poll released Wednesday showed that only 37 percent of Americans said they approved of the way Trump has handled the coronavirus crisis, the lowest percentage registered since the poll started asking the question in March. That survey found that 58 percent of respondents disapprove of Trump’s pandemic response.

Thune said Wednesday the polling numbers are likely to improve once the election becomes framed more as a choice between Trump and Biden than simply a referendum on Trump, who is getting significantly more media coverage than the presumptive Democratic nominee.

“Right now Biden is getting the benefit of not being covered at all because he’s not out there at all,” he said.

“And so really right now it’s Trump vs. Trump. I don’t think that’s the choice that probably the White House wants the American people making. I think they want it to be a choice between Biden and Trump and that means they’re going to have to get more engaged,” he added.

A Senate Republican who requested anonymity to discuss the president’s political standing agreed that Trump needs to do more to reach out to independents, women and college-educated voters.

“Politics is about addition and multiplication. You have to reach out to people,” the lawmaker said.

The senator echoed Thune’s advice that the president needs to frame the presidential race as a choice between Trump and Biden and not a referendum on Trump.

“If the election is about you, you lose. If the election is about the other guy, you win,” the lawmaker said.

But the senator questioned whether Trump has the discipline to keep the focus on Biden and the Democratic Party’s policies, saying that Trump “may not have the personality for that to happen.”

Tags Donald Trump Joe Biden John Thune Mike Crapo Mitch McConnell Shelley Moore Capito

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