The Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection

President TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senator introduces bill to hold online platforms liable for political bias Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally Rubio responds to journalist who called it 'strange' to see him at Trump rally MORE faces a steep uphill climb to a second term, even if it’s far too early to count him out. 

Trump campaign aides have talked up the president’s chances of doing even better than he did in 2016. They note the economy is strong and that he has scored some of the highest poll ratings of his tenure since the release of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE’s report.

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But the headwinds for Trump are severe.

One of the largest: His polarizing approach looks to be more hindrance than help. 

In four separate polls over the past month, more than 50 percent of respondents said they would not vote for him again or were unlikely to do so. The percentage who said they would vote for him never rose higher than 38.

The most recent of those polls, from Fox News, found 54 percent of respondents saying they would probably not or definitely not vote for Trump.

In a Quinnipiac University Poll, 52 percent of respondents said they would definitely not vote for the president, while 33 percent said they definitely would. Only 13 percent were in the middle ground, saying they would “consider” backing Trump.

It will be hard to overcome negative perceptions of the president that look to have become fixed. Some of the voters who backed Trump as an anti-establishment disruptor in 2016 appear to have peeled away.

Trump’s overall approval ratings remain mediocre at best. In the RealClearPolitics polling average Monday afternoon, Trump’s job performance gained the approval of 43 percent of voters and the disapproval of 53.6 percent.

But Trump’s salvation could lie in the idiosyncrasies of the Electoral College.

Trump lost the popular vote to Democratic nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFive takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Five takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Trump jokes he'd get 'electric chair' if he deleted even one 'love note' email to Melania MORE by 2.1 percentage points in 2016, even as he triumphed in the Electoral College 306-232.

Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad ParscaleBradley (Brad) James ParscaleMORE, has insisted that the president could win states that eluded him last time around.

During an appearance on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” last month, Parscale asserted that Colorado, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico and Nevada — all of which backed Clinton — could go for Trump in 2020.

“In every single metric, we’re looking at being bigger, better and badder than we were in 2016,” Parscale insisted.

Even if that turns out to be the case, the most likely pathway to victory for Trump has familiar contours.

He emerged victorious in 2016 largely because he won Florida — the biggest of the traditional swing states — and demolished the so-called blue wall.

The term refers to three large states — Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin — that had not backed a Republican for president since the 1980s.

Pennsylvania is the largest of the three, bestowing 20 electoral votes on the victor.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenFive takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Five takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Sanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally MORE, the early Democratic front-runner, officially launched his campaign in Philadelphia on Saturday. Trump was in Montoursville, Pa., for a campaign-style rally on Monday evening.

Terry Madonna, a professor of public affairs at Pennsylvania’s Franklin & Marshall College, said he would not rule out Trump winning the state again — but there were significant barriers.

“Trump’s job performance [rating] here is lower than in the national polls. But he also has a constituency that remains firm — the working-class voters in the northeast and southwest parts of my state, in the old mining and mill towns,” Madonna said. 

“The real problem Republicans have is that the suburbs outside Philadelphia have gone from solidly Republican 30 years ago to trending Democratic,” Madonna added.

There is plenty of evidence of trouble for Trump. 

A Quinnipiac University Poll released last week indicated Biden would beat Trump by 11 points in Pennsylvania. 

The same poll also showed other Democratic candidates vanquishing the president, though by smaller margins: Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersFive takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Five takeaways from Trump's 2020 kickoff rally Sanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally MORE (I-Vt.) ran ahead of Trump by 7 points, and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenSanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally Sanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally Warren introduces universal child care legislation MORE (D-Mass.) did so by 3 points.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisBiden, Sanders to be center stage at first debate Biden, Sanders to be center stage at first debate Poll: Six Dems lead Trump in Florida match-ups MORE (D-Calif.) was in a dead heat with Trump, while South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegSanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally Sanders tears into Trump in response to campaign kickoff rally Biden, Sanders to be center stage at first debate MORE (D) held a statistically insignificant 1-point advantage. 

Those kinds of findings add to Biden’s appeal as the candidate purportedly best able to rebuild the blue wall.

Some argue his appeal could be broader.

Steve Schale, a Democratic strategist in Florida who was the 2008 state director for former President Obama’s campaign, is backing Biden in the primary but has no formal role with his campaign.

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Schale said that Florida was always going to be a “jump ball” given the state’s competitive makeup. 

But he added that the swing voters in the Sunshine State “tend to look like the swing voters in the Upper Midwest and Pennsylvania. Maybe they have moved here from that part of the country. So generally, the same types of candidates are going to do well in Florida.”

Trump and his campaign pretty clearly see Biden as the biggest threat. The president took another swipe at Biden on Twitter on Monday.

Trump called Biden “Sleepy Joe” three times in one tweet.

But it’s Trump himself who needs to be fully awake to the difficulties he faces in 2020.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.