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A ‘law and order’ campaign does not meet the moment

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The revolving door of Donald Trump’s world has kicked its newest member to the curb. Former campaign manager Brad Parscale is the latest to be pushed aside as the president’s polling numbers continue to sink. Whether it’s his personal approval rating, horse race with former vice president Joe Biden nationally and in key battlegrounds, or his handling of the issues that matter to American voters, President Trump is under water — by a lot.

So why, at this moment, when all anyone really cares about is the COVID-19 pandemic, is the president putting his full weight behind a campaign message of “law and order” that is doomed to fail? 

My most partisan impulses tell me that this isn’t surprising, because Trump never has shown much compassion or caring for people. He is regularly callous in moments that require sensitivity, and always puts himself first. Plus, he doesn’t appear to have a good plan to combat the coronavirus and had to be pushed to wear a face mask publicly — the simplest of remedies to stop the spread of the virus.

Although all this may be true, I do think it’s more complicated than that. Trump has shown how completely disconnected he is from the nature and humanity of the United States of America. His focus on making everything about “law and order” reflects that deep misunderstanding of where we are as a country and what Americans want from their leaders.

I was not won over by Trump’s campaign in 2016, but I can admit that he had an uncanny ability to read a room and focus on issues that mattered to his voters. This time around? Not so much.

A look at his electoral approach proves my argument. 

First and foremost, law and order is not an important issue to Americans. In this past weekend’s Fox News poll, 29 percent said that the coronavirus is the nation’s most important issue. This has been the trend for months now. As for crime? It comes in at just 1 percent

Not only is it not an important issue to Americans, but Biden is favored on who to trust more on law and order. He leads Trump by a 49 percent to 42 percent margin across Kaiser Family Foundation and Pew Research surveys. What’s more, when law and order is matched up against race relations, voters said they prefer a candidate who would address the nation’s racial divisions rather than enforce the law to restore security, by a 47 percent to 38 percent margin.

It also should be noted that Trump is trying to have it both ways by going after Biden when it comes to being tough on crime. During the Democratic primary, he regularly criticized Biden for his “tough on crime” position by playing a central role in the 1994 Crime Bill. And now, the president claims that if Biden were in charge, we would see a surge of crime in the streets because he’s so weak on the issue. Which is it? Is Biden the crime bill guy or a pawn to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)? 

The failure of Trump’s campaign message, incidentally, is just as much about what he emphasizes as what he all but ignores. 

It follows that while it is obviously important that law and order doesn’t resonate with voters as an issue in and of itself, it is perhaps even more critical that Trump gets such low marks on his handling of the coronavirus — the issue that matters most. The latest ABC/Washington Post poll finds that Biden is trusted to handle the pandemic by a 20-point margin, at 54 percent to 34 percent. This, too, has been consistent for months, as has the fact that nearly two-thirds of Americans disapprove of how Trump has handled the crisis in recent surveys.

As we pass the midpoint of the summer and prepare for school to possibly resume soon, there are even more dimensions to fighting this virus. On that front, Trump fails again, leaving parents scratching their heads about what might come next. The administration has not put out a COVID-19 back-to-school plan, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos embarrassed herself last week by demanding that schools reopen or lose funding. “American investment in education is a promise to students and their families. If schools aren’t going to reopen and not fulfill that promise, they shouldn’t get the funds, and give it to the families to decide to go to a school that is going to meet that promise,” DeVos told Fox News Sunday.

That isn’t a plan — and parents know it. On the other hand, Biden has offered a five-point roadmap that emphasizes deference to local decision-making and increased federal assistance to schools. The contrast couldn’t be clearer. 

Moreover, it should come as no surprise that concerns about health care and insurance coverage are top of mind for Americans during this fraught period. In this area, President Trump continues to show his disconnect with the American psyche. 

During an interview with Chris Wallace on Sunday, Wallace repeatedly asked President Trump why he signed on to a lawsuit to repeal ObamaCare at a time when millions of Americans have lost their health insurance along with their jobs and hundreds of thousands are signing up for ObamaCare to continue to get coverage. 

Trump’s response was to lie: “We’re signing a health care plan within two weeks. A full complete health care plan that the Supreme Court decision on DACA gave me the right to do.” He added that pre-existing conditions will “be taken care of.” There is no health care plan in the works and Trump knows it. 

I can’t think of a way in which the president could be more at odds with where the American people are and what they care about at this moment than lying about health care plans and pushing schools to reopen by potentially putting kids — and their families — at risk. A new study finds that kids ages 10 and older are spreading the virus as much as adults. You’d never hear that from the administration. 

It’s hard for any campaign adviser to make a person such as Trump into a consoler in chief. You can’t fake emotion — at least not well enough to convince millions that you care while you’re ranting about MS-13 and sending law enforcement to break up protests that are widely supported. 

As a Democrat, I won’t pretend that I’m disappointed that President Trump is running a campaign centered on an issue that doesn’t move voters. But as an American, I’m plenty disappointed that we have a president who appears incapable of meeting the moment. We’re all suffering as a result. 

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.

Tags 2020 presidential campaign Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Betsy DeVos Brad Parscale Chris Wallace COVID-19 pandemic Donald Trump Joe Biden Law and order school reopenings

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