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The Memo: Trump's troubles deepen as voters see country on wrong path

The number of Americans who feel the country is on the wrong track is moving up — and posing a serious threat to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump admin to announce coronavirus vaccine will be covered under Medicare, Medicaid: report Election officials say they're getting suspicious emails that may be part of malicious attack on voting: report McConnell tees up Trump judicial pick following Supreme Court vote MORE’s chances of reelection.

A Monmouth University poll this week found a startling 74 percent of respondents asserting that the nation is headed in the wrong direction. Other recent polls have registered figures in the high 60s on that same question.

The fear, even among some Trump allies, is that the ground is turning against him on a question that has long been a strong predictor of whether an incumbent will win reelection.

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The shift doesn’t mean Trump is a no-hoper by any stretch. But it does suggest his climb to securing a second term is becoming steeper.

As recently as February, almost 40 percent of the electorate felt the nation was on the right track, according to the RealClearPolitics national polling average — even as they were eclipsed by about 55 percent who felt it was on the wrong track.

The gap has grown much wider since then. On Thursday evening, those expressing satisfaction had dwindled to 28.8 percent and those fearing the nation was hurtling in the wrong direction had soared to 64.9 percent.

Independent experts say this is a real problem for Trump.

Asked how hard these figures would be for any incumbent to overcome, Grant Reeher, a political science professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, said, “If we’re going by the history, the answer is 'very difficult.' ”

Voter satisfaction with the direction of the nation, Reeher added, “has always been a very good indicator” of whether the incumbent party was likely to keep the White House. “You saw the same thing in 2008, when [Barack] Obama had that working in his favor heavily.”

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The poll findings suggest a “pretty substantial” barrier to Trump’s reelection, according to Democratic pollster Paul Maslin.

For any incumbent, “at some point, the question is, ‘What happened on your watch?’ This particular incumbent is particularly vulnerable. … What is he doing to make this better? What has he done to make this better?” Maslin added.

There is no secret as to why the electorate’s view of the state of the nation has suddenly plunged downward.

A once-in-a-century pandemic has claimed more than 100,000 lives in the U.S. The de facto national shutdown that took place in response to the coronavirus crisis has pushed more than 40 million Americans to file new unemployment claims.

On top of that, more than 100 cities have seen protests — some accompanied by rioting and looting and by hyper-aggressive policing — since a 46-year-old unarmed black man, George Floyd, died May 25 after being pinned to the ground by a white police officer in Minneapolis who knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes.

Trump has taken a hard line on the demonstrations, urging governors to “dominate” protesters, assailing his likely Democratic opponent Joe BidenJoe BidenDemocrats warn GOP will regret Barrett confirmation Trump campaign eyes election night party at his sold-out DC hotel Harris blasts GOP for confirming Amy Coney Barrett: 'We won't forget this' MORE as “weak” and tweeting his desire for “LAW & ORDER.”

On the coronavirus, he has pushed for the nation to reopen and predicted a swift economic rebound as it does so.

“I feel more and more confident that our economy is in the early stages of coming back very strong. Not everyone agrees with me, but I have little doubt,” Trump tweeted on Wednesday. “Watch for September, October, November. Next year will be one of the best ever, and look at the Stock Market NOW!”

The stock market has outperformed expectations, clawing back many of the steep losses it suffered as the coronavirus crisis hit. But that has not been enough to restore Trump’s fortunes. He trailed Biden by more than 7 percentage points in the RealClearPolitics average as of Thursday evening.

There are new signs that the president recognizes his predicament.

On Thursday, Trump brought senior campaign officials to the White House to discuss the latest polls and messaging strategies. His 2020 campaign manager, Brad ParscaleBradley (Brad) James ParscaleMORE, was among those in attendance.

The campaign still publicly evinces confidence, in part based upon its belief that Biden is a flawed opponent. "When Joe Biden is defined, the president runs very strong against him,” a Trump campaign official told The Hill.

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That sounds like a polite way of saying that Biden is about to face a barrage of negative attacks.

There are indications that has already begun.

Trump implied in a Thursday tweet that Biden might want to “defund the police” and that this was evidence of “where Sleepy Joe is being dragged by the socialists.”

Biden has never said he wants to defund the police.

A major independent super PAC supporting Trump, America First, announced on Thursday it would begin a $7.5 million anti-Biden advertising campaign in the key swing states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

There is nothing unique about an incumbent president seeking to undercut his opponent. It has been a standard tactic in recent times: President Obama’s team did it to Mitt RomneyWillard (Mitt) Mitt RomneyThe Memo: Five reasons why Trump could upset the odds Will anyone from the left realize why Trump won — again? Ratings drop to 55M for final Trump-Biden debate MORE in 2012, President George W. Bush’s to John KerryJohn Forbes KerrySeinfeld's Jason Alexander compares Trump dance video to iconic Elaine dance This time, for Democrats, Catholics matter President's job approval is surest sign Trump will lose reelection MORE in 2004 and President Clinton to Bob Dole in 1996.

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All three of those presidents won reelection.

Republican pollster David Winston noted that, on Election Day in 2012, exit polls found that a majority of voters believed the nation was on the wrong track — albeit by a modest 6-point margin, 52 percent to 46 percent.

“A majority of the country thought the country was on the wrong track — and Obama still won,” Winston noted.

Democrats acknowledge the current state of the nation doesn’t mean Trump is doomed to defeat. They are bracing for a very aggressive campaign — but they fancy Biden’s chances.

Trump “will keep hammering away at Biden, no question,” said Democratic strategist Bob Shrum. “But he’s got a mountain to climb.”

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