Trump's weekend looked bad — but it was even worse than you thought
Back in July, newly installed Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien kicked off his stewardship of the USS Trump by proclaiming: "With 109 days left, our goal is clear – to win each day we have left until election day. If we win more days than Joe Biden wins, President Trump will be re-elected."
Aside from the stupidity of that statement—that's how presidents are elected—it's hard to see any day that impeached president Donald Trump has "won," right? And now we're one week closer to the election, and Trump is once again on the defensive in the wake of the explosive New York Times revelations over his tax returns. It's the last place he wanted to be since, to be perfectly clear, he's getting his ass whooped electorally.
We can start with the two presidential candidates' approval numbers. Trump is headed the wrong way:
That -14 net job approval is tied for the worst he's seen all year, and the only time it's been worse in his presidency was in March 2017 when he tried to get rid of the Affordable Care Act. (Helpful reminder that the only thing that moves numbers is health care—the pandemic included.)
To compare, here's Democratic nominee Joe Biden:
Given Trump's rank unpopularity, it was imperative that Trump and the GOP knock Biden's favorables down. Instead, the exact opposite happened. And while Biden has finally leveled off at -5 net favorables after a summer of consolidating his base (including young voters, his worst-performing core demographic), near parity looks far better than Trump's garbage ratings.
This stuff matters. In 2004, facing disastrous approval ratings, Republican President George W. Bush knew he couldn't rehabilitate his image over the course of the campaign, so he set out to destroy Democratic nominee John Kerry's approval ratings, mocking his war service and Purple Heart medal (awarded for being wounded in combat) and—remember this nonsense?—making a thing out of Kerry windsurfing.
Bush narrowly won the battle over who was least unpopular. Trump had to do the same, but he's too stupid, unfocused, and undisciplined to make it work. For some reason, he and his brain trust of Rudy Giuliani, wife-beater Brad Parscale, and others decided that "Hunter Biden something-something Ukraine" was the magic bullet. Even if that conspiracy theory had been true, does anyone think it would matter to anyone, particularly given the obvious and overt corruption of the entire Trump clan?
Or how about "sleepy Joe"—was that really going to cause harm when Trump is afraid of stairs and ramps and needs two hands to drink freakin' water?
But worst of all, people have long since given up giving Trump the benefit of the doubt. Bush was full of shit, but he was smartly full of shit and didn't pepper every single one of his public utterances with lies. Trump lies even when he doesn't need to lie! And he didn't turn people off with his crude and bullying demeanor. Trump could come out today with credible evidence of Biden wrongdoing, and it wouldn't matter. No one would believe him or care, because he, himself, is so loathsome.
People were willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt. Trump won't get that. So instead of harming Biden's approval numbers, it's almost as if the reverse happened—the more Trump has attacked Biden, the more popular Biden has become.
And this past weekend's polling might just be the worst of the cycle for Trump.
ABC News/Washington Post, 9/21-24 (8/15 results)
Trump 44 (44)
Biden 54 (54)
No change between their poll in mid-August and the one over this weekend—a net 10-point Biden lead.
NY Times/Sienna, 9/22-24 (no trend lines)
Trump 41 (44)
Biden 49 (54)
You want to know what's extra crazy about this New York Times poll? The sample is +1 Republican! In 2016, the electorate was D+3. Does anyone really think that Republicans will outperform their 2016 percentages? The ABC News poll above was D+1 among its likely voter results. So those of you who want to pretend we're losing the ability to be properly motivated, there you go—you can pretend the electorate will be more Republican than it was in 2016.
Some of you may be inclined to argue that these national polls are irrelevant given that the president is elected by our undemocratic electoral college. I am tracking state polls separately, so you can see how Biden is winning handily on that front as well. But here's the point: The states do not move independently of each other. Our elections are highly nationalized, highly partisanized. For Trump to suddenly make his must-win states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin competitive, he would need to gain five to six points nationally against Biden. Every single day that the national spread remains eight to 10 points is one day closer to easily losing the three states that will hand Biden the presidency.
Just as importantly, every single day that Biden retains an eight to 10 point national lead is one day closer to winning our second- and third-tier Senate races in tough Republican territories like Alaska, Kansas, South Carolina, and Texas. It makes it easier to win the tossups in places like Georgia and Montana. It helps us downballot as well in tough battleground House races. And it makes it easier to make the gains in state legislatures we need in order to pass better laws at the local level, as well as control or have a say in the looming redistricting battles of 2021.
So yes, national polls matter, and working hard to grow that margin is our top priority. The bigger the margin, the less post-election havoc Trump can cause. The bigger the margin, the more races we'll win downballot. The bigger the margin, the better we tell the world "Trump was an anomaly, so sorry, we're back on track." The bigger the margin, the happier we'll be when all the ballots are counted.
Will Trump's tax returns give us ammunition to win bigger? It's okay to be skeptical. Trump really could eat a baby on national TV and his deplorable base would find a way to rationalize it. Remember, 200,000 dead Americans has cost Trump a measly net three points in his approval ratings. It's brutally depressing.
But we don't need a big shift. One or two points can mean the difference between South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham being reelected, and us having Jamie Harrison in that seat.
Not kidding: That race could come down to hundreds of votes.
The news could also further depress Republicans, affecting both turnout and their ability to motivate volunteers to do "get out the vote" actions. We already know they're suffering in the money race, with Trump's campaign too broke to continue contesting Ohio and Iowa:
You know which campaign isn't broke?
So we don't need to just change minds. If we can keep the deplorables home, it's incredibly helpful.
We're doing what we need to do. Keep it up! Don't do that thing where you pretend you're losing by 10. If you need to think that to motivate yourself, then by all means, knock yourself out. But that's not how you motivate everyone else.
But you know who is losing by a few points? Jamie Harrison in South Carolina. Let's bust our asses to change that equation. And if we do that, we'll lift every other boat in the country.