The Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection

President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Arkansas governor says it's 'disappointing' vaccinations have become 'political' Watch live: Trump attends rally in Phoenix 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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s report.


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 ClintonBiden flexes presidential muscle on campaign trail with Virginia's McAuliffe Shontel Brown gaining ground against Nina Turner in Ohio: poll Biden hits trail for McAuliffe in test of his political brand MORE by 2.1 percentage points in 2016, even as he triumphed in the Electoral College 306-232.

Trump’s 2020 campaign manager, Brad ParscaleBrad ParscaleAides tried to get Trump to stop attacking McCain in hopes of clinching Arizona: report MORE, 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 BidenTrump hails Arizona Senate for audit at Phoenix rally, slams governor Republicans focus tax hike opposition on capital gains change Biden on hecklers: 'This is not a Trump rally. Let 'em holler' 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 SandersPoll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary Overnight Defense: US launches another airstrike in Somalia | Amendment to expand Pentagon recusal period added to NDAA | No. 2 State Dept. official to lead nuclear talks with Russia US launches second Somalia strike in week MORE (I-Vt.) ran ahead of Trump by 7 points, and Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenKavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law Biden signals tough stance on tech with antitrust picks Poll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary MORE (D-Mass.) did so by 3 points.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisKavanaugh conspiracy? Demands to reopen investigation ignore both facts and the law 'CON laws' limit the health care competition Biden aims to deliver JD Vance takes aim at culture wars, childless politicians MORE (D-Calif.) was in a dead heat with Trump, while South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegJD Vance takes aim at culture wars, childless politicians Poll: 73 percent of Democratic voters would consider voting for Biden in the 2024 primary The Hill's Morning Report - High-profile COVID-19 infections spark new worries 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.


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.