Trump is cruising for a bruising
Donald Trump is cruising for a bruising on Election Day and his performance in the final presidential debate did little to reverse his fortunes. A CNN post-debate poll indicates that the president fared better than he did in the first debate but still lost the night to Joe Biden. Losing the debate by less than you did the first time is not a ticket to four more years in the White House.
But the improvement in the president’s performance does indicate he can be a skilled debater when he controls his emotions. His problem during his presidency and his reelection campaign is that his gut usually rules his brain. He might be in a better political place now if he had been more restrained in his first direct confrontation with the former vice president. But first impressions count most, and voter attitudes hardened after Trump’s dismal performance in the first forum.
The president, chastened by his poor performance in the first debate and undoubtedly encouraged by his advisors, was disciplined and focused in his second direct encounter with Biden. The incumbent walked into the event with a plan to shift the focus onto Biden with criticisms of the Obama-Biden administration and with references to the business dealings of Biden’s son Hunter.
But even this approach did little to erase the fundamental problem the president faces, which is that most Americans disapprove of his performance as president. Trump couldn’t undo all the damage he did during his presidency in two hours.
Despite the president’s attacks on the Democratic standard bearer, the campaign is still a referendum on an incumbent who most Americans fault for poor performance. Voter concern about Hunter Biden pales compared to the anguish Americans feel over the death of more than 220,000 fellow citizens and the subsequent economic carnage that has cost millions of people their jobs. Even though he told Bob Woodward early this year that the outbreak was a serious problem, the commander in chief was and still is asleep at the switch.
The president’s persistent problem is the pandemic plague. He gets bad marks for fighting the COVID-19 outbreak in national and battleground state polls and he surely wasn’t pleased that the whole first half of the debate was devoted to discussing the deadly disease. Trump downplayed the severity of COVID-19 and said that the U.S. is “turning the corner” in recovering from the outbreak.
After dismissing the severity of the pandemic Thursday night, the president’s fantasy collided with reality the next day when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a record high in new coronavirus cases. On top of it, the White House announced Saturday that Vice President’s Mike Pence’s chief of staff and his senior political advisor tested positive for COVID-19. On Sunday the president’s chief of staff Mark Meadows seems to have contradicted the president’s debate optimism when he told CNN’s Jake Tapper that, “We’re not going to control the pandemic.”
The administration’s failure to keep its own house clear of COVID-19 further undermines the president’s credibility in the fight against it and doesn’t seem to inspire public confidence that this administration could ever win the war against COVID-19.
The campaign won’t be over for Trump until it’s over, but he faces daunting problems in his quest for a second term. More than 50 million Americans have already voted and indications are that the turnout is largely Democratic. This means Trump faces a deficit in the polls and in actual votes even before Election Day next week.
The biggest obstacle to a second Trump term is the clock is running down and the president is way behind. Last week was the last chance the incumbent had to directly confront his challenger. Real Clear Politics reports that the Democratic nominee has an 8-point lead and if it holds, chances are that Biden will win a clear electoral vote majority.
A week before the election, Trump doesn’t have a significant edge advantage in any of the battleground states he won by close margins in 2016. To make things worse for the GOP, Biden’s closer and Barack Obama is on the stump in the swing states to nail down a Democratic win. CBS news released a survey in three hotly contested states on Sunday and the president didn’t lead in any of them. Biden was neck to neck with Trump in Florida, Georgia and North Carolina, all states that candidate Trump won in 2016. Biden is also close in Texas and Iowa states that Trump won decisively against Hillary Clinton.
There’s still time for Trump to pull a rabbit out of his hat but Biden’s advantage won’t miraculously disappear anymore that the pandemic has. The president must find a way of convincing Americans late in the game that all of America’s problems are Obama and Biden’s fault. Trump’s erratic attempts to resurrect his political fortunes are too little, too late. It’s nearly impossible to erase all the damage he caused and all the ill will he’s generated in almost four years with only a week to go.
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.