There's a fundamental disconnect at the heart of Trump's flailing campaign

There's a fundamental disconnect at the heart of Trump's flailing campaign
President of the United States Donald Trump speaking with supporters at a "Keep America Great" rally at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Arizona. Credit: Gage Skidmore

If Trump sneaks into a second term, it will be a result of voter suppression and intimidation, disinformation and various forms of ratfucking. It won't be because Trump persuaded voters that he's competent and deserves four more years in office. He's running a historically terrible campaign.

There are several reasons for this. An important one is a fundamental misunderstanding of how public opinion can shift on social issues pertaining to groups that have long faced discrimination in this country.

Trump believes that he can win back the white suburban voters who have fled the GOP in droves by playing on their racial grievances as he did in 2016. Politico reported last week that "various advisers have pushed for Trump to focus on economy, a second-term agenda or law and order — anything that avoids tweets about the Confederate flag."

It was a tactic Trump used to launch himself to the White House in 2016. But his advisers såay the world has changed since the coronavirus pandemic seized the global economy and nationwide protests against police brutality erupted. In that climate, they fear voters won’t be as receptive to certain divisive culture war issues, especially the independent voters, senior citizens, suburban women and the sliver of African Americans Trump must win to carry crucial swing states like Wisconsin, Ohio or Pennsylvania....

Several Republican strategists said reviving cultural wars and making not-so-subtle nods to Confederate sympathizers is not a way to mobilize the voters outside of Trump’s hardcore base.

The obvious problem with this strategy is that the US is projected to suffer 225,000 mostly preventable deaths by Election Day, economists think we'll be lucky to get down to single-digit unemployment and when Trump starts babbling about leftists knocking down the 550-foot Washington Monument, it only reinforces how out of touch he is.

But Trump faces a more fundamental problem. There's been a sea-change in public opinion about the Movement for Black Lives and racially discriminatory policing since George Floyd's murder among all groups, but most importantly among white Americans. Last month, an ABC News poll found that 74 percent of Americans thought George Floyd’s murder was a “sign of broader problems in the treatment of African Americans by police.” As Greg Sargent wrote at the time, “this represents a huge increase: In 2014, after two other high-profile deaths of African American men at the hands of police, only 43 percent of Americans said those instances pointed to a broader problem.” A Monmouth University poll published at around the same time found that 76 percent of Americans think racism and discrimination are “a big problem” in this country, up 26 points since 2015, and 57 percent said the George Floyd protesters have reason to be angry. Only one in three respondents to a Marist poll said they had confidence that the cops treat black and white people similarly. As a result of this shift in public attitudes, the Black Lives Matter movement may be the biggest in US history, according to The New York Times.

Trump hopes he can get the band together and replay his big hits from the good old days, but we know from similar shifts in opinion about social issues that once they happen, there's no way to put the toothpaste back in the tube, and that's especially true in terms of marginalized groups.

We saw a similar, although somewhat less rapid sea-change in public opinion about same-sex marriage and the broader issue of equal rights for the LGBTQ community. And while transgender people still face horrific discrimination, there's no going backwards on marriage or employment protections or the more general view that gay people are valuable members of their communities who are fully deserving of equality under the law.

And while cannabis legalization is obviously not just a matter of racial justice--lots of people smoke weed--there's also been a dramatic shift in public opinion about legalization over the past 15 years or so. Amd as people like former Attorney General Jeff Sessions learned the hard way, that too isn't reversible.

As for the Movement for Black Lives, once one recognizes the humanity of another group and finally sees that its members can't go to a store or head out for a run without facing potential abuse and in some cases the loss of life, as so many white people have in recent months, Trump's brand of cheap demagoguery about that group's struggles will fall on deaf ears.

Trump's making a ton of obvious errors, but doubling down on Making the Confederacy Great Again when the public is going the other way is among the most self-defeating.

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