The Memo: Five ways Trump could come back

President TrumpDonald TrumpJan. 6 committee chair says panel will issue a 'good number' of additional subpoenas Overnight Defense & National Security — Presented by AM General — Pentagon officials prepare for grilling Biden nominates head of Africa CDC to lead global AIDS response MORE is in trouble.

He has lagged his presumptive Democratic opponent Joe BidenJoe BidenFord to bolster electric vehicle production in multi-billion dollar push Protesters demonstrate outside Manchin's houseboat over opposition to reconciliation package Alabama eyes using pandemic relief funds on prison system MORE by a significant margin in national opinion polls throughout the year. His standing in the crucial swing states is not much better.

The economy, which was to be Trump’s central asset as he sought reelection, has been battered by the coronavirus. The pandemic, which has killed more than 160,000 people in the United States, is set to be the election’s dominant issue — and polls show Trump’s handling of it meets with broad disapproval.


But even though the situation looks bleak for Trump now, there are at least five plausible ways that he could come back into contention.

A coronavirus recovery

Trump has been talking up the chances of a COVID-19 vaccine but there is no realistic prospect that such a treatment will become widely available in time to save his reelection chances.

That said, even a significant downturn in rates of infection — or solid proof that a vaccine is imminent — could change the public mood significantly.

Scientists acknowledge there is much that remains unknown about the coronavirus. There is some evidence, albeit disputed, that its lethality could be decreasing over time.

The latest data shows new infections and current hospitalizations declining nationwide. That could, of course, be a consequence of some states tightening controls after recent spikes. Fragile progress has been reversed before.

An Economist/YouGov poll last week indicated that Trump’s handling of COVID-19 was disapproved of by 55 percent of adults in the U.S., while only 37 percent approved.


Still, if there were concrete signs in the immediate run-up to Election Day that the United States has finally turned the corner, it would undoubtedly give Trump a big boost.

A major Biden gaffe, especially in the debates

The Trump campaign last week began pushing for a fourth televised debate, to add to the three encounters already scheduled between the president and Biden.

Their request was rebuffed. But the fact that it was made in the first place underlines how the president’s team sees the debates as a key opportunity to change the tide.

They are not necessarily wrong. Biden’s performances in early debates during the Democratic primary process were often meandering and uninspired. The former vice president might have got a bit better as time went on, but ring-rustiness could creep in again.

The final Democratic primary debate, which featured only Biden and Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersDo progressives prefer Trump to compromise? Texas House Republican tests positive for coronavirus in latest breakthrough case In defense of share buybacks MORE (I-Vt.), took place on March 15. The first presidential debate is scheduled for Sept. 29 — a gap of more than six months.

Democrats point out Trump’s own penchant for exaggerating and misspeaking, asserting that this should blunt any problem for Biden.

But the Trump Team has blasted Biden for months with the accusation that his mental faculties are slipping. Any misstep by the Democrat in the debates will be filtered through that lens — and may raise new questions in voters' minds.

A backlash against street protests

The weeks after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in late May seemed to bring about a sea change in public opinion.

Support for the Black Lives Matter movement soared and higher numbers of Americans than ever before appeared willing to publicly acknowledge racial disparities in policing and the justice system.

Trump responded to the protests with hardline rhetoric and action, but it appeared from opinion polls that he had misjudged the mood of the nation. Inflammatory tweets such as “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” and the forcible clearing of protesters from Lafayette Square in front of the White House seemed to misfire.

But the generally peaceful tone of protests has begun to fray in some places.

The situation is especially contentious in Portland, Ore., where more than 20 people were arrested last weekend.


Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler (D) and Oregon Gov. Kate BrownKate BrownOregon legislature on the brink as Democrats push gerrymandered maps Oregon governor sued by police, firefighters over vaccine mandate Unvaccinated employee sparked COVID-19 outbreak at Oregon assisted living facility: officials MORE (D) were emphatically opposed to the Trump administration’s decision to send federal officers into the city. But Wheeler has latterly expressed annoyance about a minority of protesters playing into Trump’s hands. He has accused those who have used violence of acting as “props” for the president.

Meanwhile, more than 100 people were arrested in Chicago on Monday amid disruption and looting.

Politically speaking, it’s possible that even disorder unrelated to protests against racial injustice gets co-opted into the president’s preferred narrative.

Even if some voters blame the president for increasing tensions, it’s also possible that Trump’s “law and order” rhetoric and claims to speak for “The Silent Majority” could resonate with others.

The polls are simply wrong

Democrats and other Trump critics are haunted by 2016, when a victory for Democrat Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats worry negative images are defining White House Heller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll MORE was being forecast even on Election Day.

The story of 2016 polling is more nuanced than it is sometimes portrayed.


National polls were broadly accurate in predicting Clinton’s popular vote victory but projections about the election’s outcome were thrown off by inaccurate state-level polls, especially in some crucial battlegrounds such as Wisconsin. The final RealClearPolling average in Wisconsin had Clinton leading by more than 6 percentage points. Trump won the state by less than 1 point.

The Trump campaign has insisted that even the national polls are off this time around.

Campaign manager Bill Stepien is among those who have argued that some of the major polling organizations are under-representing Republicans. Other voices have raised the question of whether there are “hidden” Trump voters who do not want to declare their affiliation to pollsters.

Whatever the merits of the granular arguments, there is reason to tread carefully around polls when it comes to Trump.

Trump’s ad blitz against Biden works

Democrats have taken some measure of comfort from the fact that Trump and his allies have been strafing Biden with attacks for months, to little discernible effect.

As of Tuesday morning, Biden was almost 7 points ahead in the RealClearPolitics national polling average.


But experts across the political spectrum expect the polls to tighten in the weeks ahead. That’s not only people changing their mind — it’s also because many voters only really pay close attention as Election Day draws near.

Trump loyalists hope his efforts to impugn Biden’s mental sharpness and tie him to the most left-wing elements in the Democratic Party will work with middle-of-the-road voters in the closing stretch.

The Trump campaign is far better financed than it was in 2016, when it was outspent by Clinton by more than $200 million.

This time around Biden and Trump each have about $300 million cash on hand, according to the latest figures — and Team Trump outraised the Biden camp by about $25 million in June.

A Trump advertising blitz could make the last weeks of the campaign uncomfortable for Biden.

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