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Seniors will make Donald Trump a one-term president

Last December, I wrote that “independent voters will make Donald Trump a one-term president.” The crux of my argument was the incumbent president’s precipitous drop in standing among independent voters in the wake of the impeachment vote. It is hard to believe a piece that centered on the president’s impeachment was just five months ago, given the rapid and devastating changes our country has endured since then.

President Trump is still underwater with registered independents in the latest Gallup poll, netting just a 46 percent job approval among this key voting bloc. However, there is an even more important voting group that is currently trending away from Trump — America’s seniors.

Despite being a “senior citizen” himself, many Americans in the president’s age group have recently soured on him, especially in light of his administration’s response to COVID-19. Back in mid-March, Americans over 65 years old “approved of Trump’s handling of the outbreak at a higher rate than any other age group,” according to Morning Consult. Just a month later, that specific COVID-19 response approval rating dropped 20 points and is now lower than any other age group, except for 18 to 29-year-olds.

By a 6-to-1 margin in that same survey, older Americans say that government should prioritize the coronavirus health response and mitigation of the virus above the economic focus. This makes total sense when you consider that, of the more than 90,000 people in the United States who have succumbed to the disease, the vast majority of victims have been over the age of 65. Every day brings new stories from across the country detailing truly tragic conditions in America’s nursing homes, from Arkansas to Pennsylvania, Louisiana to Texas. In Minnesota, nursing homes have been the site of 81 percent of the state’s COVID-19 deaths.

Back in 2016, then-candidate Trump won the senior vote over Secretary Hillary Clinton by more than seven percentage points. That point spread, more than anything — especially when you consider the median age in key battleground states like Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — delivered Trump his electoral victory.

Four years later, Trump is facing a general election against a much different opponent than four years earlier. According to multiple Democratic and Republican strategists polled by Annie Karni and Maggie Haberman in the New York Times, older voters view former Vice President Joe Biden as an “appealing alternative” to Trump. Recent polling indicates that the former vice president now holds a 10-point advantage over Trump with older American voters.

Florida, in particular, presents the most serious challenge to the president’s reelection chances. Trump bested Clinton by more than 17 points with older voters in the Sunshine State. A Quinnipiac poll taken in late April now finds the incumbent president trailing Biden by 10 points among those same older voters in Florida, mirroring national polling. In the same poll, a majority of voters over age 65 expressed their concern that they themselves or someone they know will be infected with the disease. Those numbers track similar levels of concern and anxiety, felt especially by this most vulnerable age group. In 2016, Trump won Florida’s 29 electoral votes with just a razor-thin 1 percent margin.

Certainly this drop in standing among any voting group would be troubling for an incumbent president facing reelection in less than six months. Even more troubling is that seniors turn out to vote — more than any other age group: 70 percent of voters age 65 or older turned out in 2016, compared with just 46 percent of voters under the age of 30.

Clearly these polls have spooked Trump’s White House and campaign teams. Earlier this month, the administration hosted an “Older Americans Month” proclamation event, hoping to showcase the president’s commitment to the nation’s seniors. In previous administrations, this kind of proclamation was just issued to the press without much fanfare.

While these kinds of events are strong in terms of optics and might provide some kind of short-term gain among senior voters, Trump will face a major challenge with winning these disaffected older Americans back to his column. With early predictions that the United States may face a second wave of Coronavirus infections in the Fall, the incumbent president will likely struggle again in terms of messaging and mounting a comprehensive federal response.

In 2020, President Trump will also have something else to grapple with for the first time in his political career: a record. Running as a businessman in 2016, without any political or governmental experience provided then-candidate Trump the luxury of not having to defend positions or policies. Trump’s FY 2021 federal budget released in February, before the real impacts of COVID-19 were being felt by Americans, already promised over $750 billion in cuts to Medicare and $844 billion in cuts to Medicaid over the next decade. There is no doubt the Biden campaign will make these drastic cuts to social safety net budgets — as well as Trump’s response to COVID-19 — a centerpiece of his message and media campaign come November.

Kevin Walling (@kevinpwalling) is a Democratic strategist, Vice President at HGCreative, co-founder of Celtic Strategies, and a regular guest on Fox News and Fox Business and Bloomberg TV and Radio.