Trump Doesn’t Pivot
Another day, another less-than-ideal poll for the incumbent.
A new Monmouth poll has the president down 12 points to Biden. While polls are notoriously untrustworthy — particularly four months from an election — I did see this nugget from CNN’s Harry Enten, “polls taken around Independence Day in an election year are actually pretty highly correlated with the November results in incumbent contests. That means Trump is in a lot of trouble…since 1940, the median difference is only about 4.5 points.”
Further adding to Trump’s troubles is that modern elections tend to be less fluctuating than earlier, less partisan elections. Thank polarization for that.
What this means for President Trump is that there is very little wiggle room for him to maneuver here.
Think of it this way — Trump secured the 2016 election by narrowly winning Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin by 0.2%, 0.7%, and 0.8%, respectively. Combined, that’s fewer than 80,000 votes in an election which almost three million more people voted for his opponent. And since that election day, he has become even more unpopular and polarizing.
The playbook for a successful Trump re-election campaign is self-apparent. Get the virus under control, rebuild the economy, resist the culture wars, practice message discipline, and avoid the particularly egregious tweets. Not only is he not following this advice, he seems to be doing the opposite.
Why isn’t he trying to grow his base in an election year? Why not try to win over independents?
Here is how Maggie Haberman and Annie Karni summarize the status of the re-election campaign, “advisers and allies say the president’s repeated acts of self-destruction have significantly damaged his re-election prospects, and yet he appears mostly unable, or unwilling, to curtail them.”
That last part, unable or unwilling, caught my eye. It’s apparent that he isn’t trying to woo moderates. A casual scroll of his Twitter feed tells us this. But which personal shortcoming explains this bizarre behavior?
The “unwilling” camp would contend that Trump has the capacity to be more disciplined, but views his divide-and-conquer strategy as more politically advantageous. It is possible that voters see his behavior as authentic, albeit flawed. That (perceived) authenticity has attracted a vocal base. “I have to be myself,” Trump reportedly told advisors who were worried about some of his more incendiary antics.
Relentlessly feeding his never-satiated base could also motivate them to show up to the polls. It was his 2016 strategy and it worked then. Trump probably sees trying to win over Democratic or liberal leaning voters as a mostly futile effort. He’s right.
The “unable” camp is far more interesting. A 74-year-old Queens real estate developer with a history of controversial statements cannot overcome his flaws and remains stuck in his ways, for better or worse.
There is a hope, however romanticized, that the gravity of the office weighs on a president. Occupying the White House is a humbling experience. As political scientist John Burke once noted, “while I think that the President shapes the office to some extent, I also think the office shapes the President.”
Perhaps under normal conditions this wonderful quip rings true. On his first day in office, Barack Obama spoke of “humble gratitude” and “a willingness to find meaning in something greater” while he walked the hallowed grounds of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Perhaps Trump is just unable to reroute his hardwiring. He doesn’t apologize, that’s weakness. He seems disinterested with personal growth and incapable of self-reflection. Indeed, the debate that is raging across various opinion pages is whether the campaign can save Trump. The structure rescuing the leader.
Whether he’s unable or unwilling, one thing is for certain: Trump’s re-election hopes are in trouble.