The Memo: Trump lags in polls as crises press
President Trump took to Twitter on Monday morning to complain about a “heavily biased Democrat Poll” — the latest sign he is feeling the pressure as his fortunes sag five months before November’s election.
The poll from ABC News and The Washington Post showed Trump losing to likely Democratic challenger Joe Biden by 10 percentage points. The poll is not a notable outlier among recent surveys, nor is there any objective evidence that it is biased.
The results point to the electoral perils Trump faces as unrest about racial injustice explodes across the nation while voters grapple with the coronavirus crisis and its economic impact.
People braced for another night of confrontation on Monday, with Washington, New York and Los Angeles among the cities imposing curfews.
For Trump, one danger is that he is seen as unable to get the country under control.
Many experts are sure this spells trouble, and maybe electoral doom, for Trump.
Allan Lichtman, a history professor at American University and one of the few prominent observers to predict Trump’s 2016 victory, said the president is “really in much worse shape than he was five months ago.”
Referring to the cumulative effects of COVID-19, economic disruption and social unrest, Lichtman added that, for Trump, “there will be an electoral price to be paid for what is going on in the country.”
The poll that drew Trump’s ire on Monday showed Biden leading the president 53 percent to 43 percent among registered voters. Two months previously, Biden’s edge in a poll from the same organizations had been just 2 points, 49 percent to 47 percent.
Other polls have indicated broadly similar results. A Yahoo News-YouGov poll released Monday put Biden’s lead at 8 points, 48 percent to 40 percent. A Fox News poll released May 21 put Biden up by an identical margin.
Some polls do point to narrower margins, but the overall outlook is not good for Trump. In the RealClearPolitics national polling average, he trailed Biden by almost 6 points on Monday evening.
There are plenty of caveats, to be sure.
Trump has a very resilient base. There are five months to go before Election Day. The president often points out that polls predicted he would lose to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Nevertheless, Trump is faring worse against Biden than he was against Clinton at this time in 2016. Steve Kornacki of NBC News noted in a Monday tweet that Clinton led Trump by just 2 points in the RealClearPolitics average at exactly this point four years ago.
The contrasts offered by Biden and Trump have been on stark display amid the unrest that has affected at least 75 cities in the week since George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man, died in Minneapolis.
A video that showed a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, with his knee on Floyd’s neck until Floyd became unresponsive, sparked outrage. Chauvin has since been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in addition to being kicked off the force.
Biden on Monday held his first in-person event since the coronavirus lockdown went into effect, meeting local leaders at a predominantly black church in Wilmington, Del. Biden posted a photo on Twitter of himself taking notes while an African American woman spoke, adding the message that “leaders listen.”
Trump, by contrast, admonished the nation’s governors for not taking a harder line against protesters in a Monday conference call that became public almost as soon as it was held.
Trump told the governors they had to “dominate” the protesters. He warned that if they failed to do so, they would look “like a bunch of jerks.”
The call followed numerous controversial tweets and comments from the president.
He warned late last week in a tweet that “once the looting starts, the shooting starts” — though he denied the next day that he was threatening to shoot protesters.
Trump also tweeted that any protesters who breached the perimeter of the White House would face “the most vicious dogs, and most ominous weapons, I have ever seen.”
He has accused Democratic governors and mayors of being too timorous in dealing with “anarchists.” And on Saturday, he sought to defend his political movement against charges of racism, telling reporters at the White House, “MAGA loves the black people.”
Trump loyalists defend him, arguing that a more hard-line approach to cracking down on vandalism and other riotous behavior is both right and politically astute.
A spokesman for the Republican National Committee emailed reporters on Monday, insisting that Trump “repeatedly voiced support for peaceful protesters and called for the violence to stop so that Americans can honor George Floyd’s memory.”
But one danger for Trump is the possibility that voters have grown weary of his ever-combative approach.
Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.) became the latest Republican to voice concern on Monday. Toomey told a group of reporters in Philadelphia that “it would be helpful if he would change the tone of his message.”
Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, also a Republican, went further later in the day.
Referring to Trump’s comments about dominating protesters, Baker said at a news conference, “At so many times during these past several weeks, when the country needed compassion and leadership the most, it was simply nowhere to be found. Instead, we got bitterness, combativeness and self-interest.”
Democrats say Trump is simply not able to unite the nation or show empathy, regardless of the political consequences.
“I see no indication, including in his life before politics, that he has any capacity for empathy, for understanding, for walking in somebody else’s shoes,” said Democratic strategist Tad Devine. “It’s just not there.”
Trump, as ever, is not for turning back.
On Monday afternoon, he retweeted a comment from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) suggesting the military should be deployed to confront what Cotton termed “Antifa terrorists.”
“100% Correct,” Trump added.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.