Trump isn't capable of doing the one thing he must do to turn the election around
Donald Trump initiated a campaign shakeup this week, less than four months before Election Day. Never mind that Trump installed a man who was famously fired over Chris Christie's Bridgegate scandal as his new campaign manager—Trump's act of desperation is preposterously entertaining all on its own.
It doesn't matter how many times Trump shakes things up or who he puts in charge of his campaign, he's still the candidate and there's just no putting lipstick on that pig.
What Trump doesn't realize is that the only way to dig himself out of the hole his reelection campaign is in is to govern his way out of it. And Trump simply isn't capable of governing. In fact, Trump's not really capable of talking anymore, let alone producing fully formed thoughts or formulating strategies.
That's not a joke. Trump gave two speeches this week that were often so disorganized, they were incomprehensible. Trump's Rose Garden speech Tuesday, which was supposed to center on China, turned into an hour-plus rambler that included excerpts like the following (from the official White House transcript):
Cancel all asylum cooperation agreements in the Western Hemisphere. Well, we have agreements with Honduras, Guatemala, with El Salvador. We have great agreements, where, when Biden and Obama used to bring killers out, they would say, “Don’t bring them back to our country. We don’t want them.” “Well, we have to.” We don’t want them; they wouldn’t take them. Now, with us, they take them. Someday I’ll tell you why. Someday I’ll tell you why. But they take them, and they take them very gladly.
If you're waiting for "someday," when Trump will tell us why, don't hold your breath.
On Thursday, Trump got a do-over, holding a press event (i.e. another campaign rally) on deregulation on the South Lawn of the White House. After taking the stage, Trump bolted out of the gate with two minutes of his best stuff on his second-term agenda.
So we have many exciting things that we’ll be announcing over the next eight weeks, I would say? Things that nobody has even contemplated, thought about, thought possible, and things that we’re gonna get done, we have gotten done, we started in most cases. But it’s gonna be a very exciting eight weeks, a, uh, eight weeks like, I prob, I think Mike, we can honestly say, nobody’s ever going to see eight weeks like we’re gonna have.
It's gotten to the point where block quoting Trump is often the only way to quote him in many instances because it's nearly impossible to chop up his quotes in intelligible ways. As a reporter, there's simply no way to thread quotes together when one can't even wrap their mind around what point Trump was trying to make.
So let's forget about Trump messaging his way out of the massive crater he's landed the country in. Even if he could message, it wouldn't matter. But the point is, he can't.
Trump's two biggest problems right now are the pandemic he's hopelessly trying to ignore and the economy he thought would be at the heart of his campaign. That's not to ignore race as an issue in this election. It's simply an acknowledgement that everyone already knew Trump was a flaming racist. The brutal killing of George Floyd has simply offered a deafening reminder to everyone who either isn't a flaming racist that he is one. And not just a little one. A big giant racist who—if he could figure out how—would happily reinstate slavery to please his hardcore white supremacist acolytes.
But the pandemic is the X factor no one saw coming this election cycle and, because Trump is too mentally and emotionally incapacitated to govern, it has entirely neutralized what Trump had always believed would be his ace in the hole—the economy.
So let's take the pandemic first. Trump blew absolutely everything possible in terms of what was necessary to mount an even somewhat competent national response: testing, procuring and distributing medical equipment, messaging, leading by example, issuing national mandates like shutdowns and mask wearing, coordination across federal agencies, consoling the nation, and reassuring Americans that, no matter how bad it got, a steady hand was at the helm. He quite literally hasn't done anything right, and that's why the coronavirus is now a runaway train that public health officials and some elected officials are helplessly chasing down the track.
But at this point in the election, recounting all Trump's failures isn't as important as the fact that Americans clearly know Trump and his GOP counterparts have failed the nation.
Take the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll released Friday—Trump's coronavirus approvals have plummeted to 38% over the last several months.
- March: 51% approval, 45% disapproval
- May: 46% approval, 53% disapproval
- July: 38% approval, 60% disapproval
It's not getting any better from there because the outbreak isn't getting any better, and Trump has 100% abandoned any effort at containment. Additionally, right on the heels of his botched economic reopening, Trump now thinks Americans are going to entrust the health of their children to his next doomed effort: school reopenings. This week's Quinnipiac poll put Trump's approvals on that issue even lower, with just 29% of Americans approving of how he's handling school reopenings and 62% saying it's unsafe to reopen K-12 schools this fall.
That brings us to the Trump's precious economy, the foundation for which was laid by President Obama through eight long years of toil after the last GOP president tanked the country's financial standing. Trump has been riding Obama's coattails for three years but, nonetheless, the economy has consistently polled as his strongest issue with voters for most of his presidency.
But the Quinnipiac poll this week was the first high-quality poll this cycle to suggest a serious weakening on the issue for Trump. According to the survey, Trump is now underwater on his handling of the economy, 44% - 53%, a turnaround from June when he was still above water at 52% - 45%.
The Q poll also found that voters now prefer Biden to Trump handling the economy, also a flip from last month. By 50% - 45%, voters said Biden would do a better job handling the economy versus in June when Trump still held a 51% - 46% edge on the economy.
“Trump’s strongest card, the economy, shredded by a killer virus, may have left the president with no goto issue or trait to stave off defeat," said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy, "not leadership, not empathy, not foreign policy, and certainly not his handling of COVID-19.”
To be fair, Trump's approvals on the economy were still above water at 55% in this week's NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. But as Paul Krugman noted in the New York Times, the next disaster is just days away—and that's the end of the CARES Act that helped prop up the economy and ease the blow of mass unemployment for millions upon millions of Americans. By the end of the month, "millions of workers will see their incomes plunge 60 percent or more," writes Krugman. Of course, the Democratic-led House has passed a relief bill that would extend those benefits through the rest of 2020, but neither the GOP-led Senate nor the White House has shown much interest in it.
Trump may already be losing the faith of Americans on the sole issue where he still had an edge over Biden. If he and Senate Republicans fail to extend coronavirus benefits with some sense of urgency, they'll run the economy over a cliff while also inflicting an unimaginable amount of distress on an untold number of American households.
At that point, the economy—Trump's last best hope—will be gone. But most unfortunately, as Trump goes down, he'll surely take the whole country with him.