Trump’s personality is as much a problem as his performance
Donald Trump’s narcissistic personality is as much a political problem as his dismal performance. The message the president sends to Americans mourning the deaths of so many friends and family members appears to be, “if you think you have problems, look at what the pandemic has done to my presidency.”
Last week, an Axios interview with President Trump offered a revealing look into the president’s self-centered and seemingly self-serving personality. The president swung and missed when he had the chance to offer condolences to Americans who have suffered great losses due to the pandemic — which also cost more than 160,000 lives in the U.S. — and the loss of civil rights icon John Lewis. The best Trump could do to respond to the deaths of so many Americans was to say “it is what it is.” When he had an opportunity to mourn the death of Rep. Lewis (D-Ga.), the only thing he could say about the legacy of the champion of voting rights was “he chose not to come to my inauguration.”
Trump’s demeanor throughout his presidency has multiplied the performance problems he faces with only three months to go in his sagging reelection campaign. The president’s frequent golf outings, as people stagger under the burden of personal and economic suffering, are a dramatic illustration of his seeming indifference.
Trump is Ronald Reagan without the charm. Reagan’s sunny disposition made it easier for Americans to swallow his policies. A teaspoon of sugar makes the medicine go down. Trump doesn’t have that advantage.
Politics is more about people than it is about policy. In our hyper-charged environment, ideologues forget that personality is as much a factor in voting decisions as issues are. Like it or not, many voters want a “bar buddy” type of candidate equally as much as they desire an ideological soulmate.
Today, many voters certainly fault Trump for his failure to perform compared to an expectation that presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden will be more effective fighting the existential crisis gripping the nation. But they are just as likely to fault the president for his personal failings and credit his Democratic challenger for having a more positive personality.
The proof can be found in a poll conducted by ABC News and the Washington Post in mid-July. Biden had more than a 20-point advantage over Trump for capacity to fight the pandemic effectively and to handle race relations. Biden even had an edge over the president on crime and safety, which suggests that the president’s law-and-order strategy has not worked.
But Biden’s personality is just as potent as his performance. The Democratic presidential candidate has more than a 20-point edge over the incumbent president for possessing the personality and temperament to be an effective president and for being able to unify Americans instead of dividing them.
Biden’s soothing temperament allows him to bring people together in a way that Trump can’t even begin to imagine. In the view of many Americans, the Democratic nominee connects people, while the Republican standard-bearer drives them away. When the nation is in crisis, Americans want a uniter, not a divider.
Biden has been able to unify the warring elements within his party and bring dissident Republicans into his camp. The best example of Biden’s capacity to unify will be on prominent display on the first night of the Democratic National Convention, when Biden’s most prominent primary opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and former Republican Ohio Gov. John Kasich speak to the convention’s virtual audience.
The turning point within the Democratic caucus in the 2020 campaign was late in February, when the pandemic began to sweep across America. By Super Tuesday, it was clear that the majority of Democrats had moved toward Biden. In the wake of the pandemic, Americans lost their taste for exciting candidates and looked for a presidential hopeful who would bring peace to a restive nation. Support for Biden seems to have strengthened as Americans watched the carnage and chaos following the murder of George Floyd in late May.
Currently, an overwhelming majority of Americans fear the United States is spiraling out of control.
Trump is the ultimate political drama queen, and the last thing grieving or jobless Americans need is more drama. Voters are looking for a tranquil presence who can move America across the bridge over troubled waters. Voters appear to be confident that Biden can still those waters and move them through troubled times. People want to grieve in peace, and they want a president who can mourn with them.
Brad Bannon is a Democratic pollster and CEO of Bannon Communications Research. He is also the host of a radio podcast “Dateline D.C. With Brad Bannon” that airs on the Progressive Voices Network. Follow him on Twitter @BradBannon.
The Hill has removed its comment section, as there are many other forums for readers to participate in the conversation. We invite you to join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter.