In the heat of crisis, Trump melts away

Life over the last month has been surreal, as Americans continue to die or lose their jobs and President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick MORE continues to treat his daily coronavirus press briefings like episodes from his reality show.

In the heat of crisis, leaders either step up or melt away. After an initial upswing, Trump’s approval ratings during the coronavirus pandemic have declined. The initial uptick in approval now appears to have been only the “rallying effect” that often benefits leaders during times of crisis.

What was curious but perhaps not surprising about Trump’s rally effect was just how small it was compared to other commanders in chief and state executives in similar situations. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s approval rating hit 87 percent amid his handling of what has been the epicenter of COVID-19 in America. New York and America liked what they saw from him.

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The American people do not like what they see from Trump in action. His approval rating has gone from a high of around 50 percent to 40 percent in the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, which has been on the lower end of what Trump’s average has been throughout his presidency. 

It seems that after the initial bump, Americans saw the reality of the situation. They heard too many reports about Trump or his advisers knowing of the risk posed by the virus as far back as January and doing nothing. They heard about the scarcity of life-protecting equipment, and Trump’s initial refusal to invoke powers that would compel companies to make what was needed. They worried about the “hunger games” Trump was setting up by pitting states against each other in their bids to acquire the necessary equipment. They were saddened by the complete lack of empathy their commander-in-chief displayed in many instances.

Trump’s advisers are understandably worried. Some believe Trump should not appear at the press briefings as often (my column on that here). They are right. The more Trump appears on television and lies, distracts and fights with reporters, the worse it will be for his approval numbers. 

But the better it will be for Americans to see the mess Trump has become in the face of this pandemic. As such, people are logically looking to see what the alternative is.

Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSirota reacts to report of harassment, doxing by Harris supporters Republicans not immune to the malady that hobbled Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Republicans lawmakers rebuke Trump on election MORE (I-Vt.) has suspended his presidential campaign, endorsed former Vice President Joe Biden for president and begun working with Biden to incorporate some of the progressive movement’s agenda into Biden’s presidential campaign.  President Obama today enthusiastically endorsed his former vice president. The time has come for Biden to make his case to the American people.

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It will not be easy. This pandemic has put in stark relief the characteristics that a real leader needs and underscored Trump’s spectacular failure. It has also pushed politics and politicking aside in a way that has made it imperative to look for alternative avenues for Biden and his campaign to be heard.

Democrats are feeling more optimistic about being able to do just that. Still nervous about the party infighting that many said caused them to lose the 2020 election, Democrats see Sanders’s endorsement of Biden as a great sign that party unity will be the name of the game going into the summer months. 

The pandemic has also put front and center the chronic need for access to health care for all Americans, an issue that gives Democrats an advantage at the ballot box, and one that will allow Sanders to play a big role in shaping Biden’s agenda. 

The once-roaring economy has come to a halt with a president who seems all too eager to turn everything back on, regardless of whether it would cost American lives. The economy, once Trump’s greatest political weapon, may ultimately be his downfall.

The most recent polls have Biden leading Trump by an average of six points. Many will say that the same polls showed a similar advantage for Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida Hillicon Valley: Productivity, fatigue, cybersecurity emerge as top concerns amid pandemic | Facebook critics launch alternative oversight board | Google to temporarily bar election ads after polls close Trump pledges to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, designate KKK a terrorist group in pitch to Black voters MORE in 2016 and that Trump won anyway. But what we have now that we didn’t have in 2016 is a three-and-a-half-year record of ineptitude and incompetence.

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Biden is already proving how much better prepared he is to do the job of president. His recent New York Times op-ed is refreshing in its confident projection of a plan to safely get Americans back to work, relying not on hunches, as Trump’s plan seems to do, but on science, facts, expertise and evidence. Biden will forge a better, stronger America after this crisis. 

We cannot afford a president who diminishes, belittles, rages and burns, leaving the country melting in his wake. 

Maria Cardona is a longtime Democratic strategist and co-chair of the Democratic National Committee's rules and bylaws committee for the party's 2020 convention. She is a principal at Dewey Square Group, a Washington-based political consulting agency, and a CNN/CNN Español political commentator. Follow her on Twitter @MariaTCardona.