Trump’s superpower is that no matter how vulgar, scandalous or reprehensible he is, his core base of supporters continues to adore him while the rest of us writhe in agony. This makes a sham out of all previous conventional thinking about political communication. I now fondly remember how Mitt Romney was skewered in the press when he said that he had “binders full of women” to choose from for jobs in his future administration. Even at the time, I failed to see how that was sexist, yet it did damage in a way that Trump’s “grab them by the pussy” didn’t. The conventional rules just don’t apply to this man, but they might finally be catching up with him.
The reason Trump’s vulgarity hasn’t hurt him as it has hurt other politicians is that he doesn’t give a damn about any voters beyond his loyal base. Most candidates do what I’ve called a dance to the center after winning their party’s nomination in an effort to attract the independent voters that are necessary to win the White House. Not Trump. He doubled down on the rhetoric that won him the Republican primary and again in his inauguration speech and has since governed just for his special MAGA tribe. Sure, he won despite this strategy in 2016, but it was a very narrow and precarious electoral college win. I don’t tire of reminding the world that he lost the popular vote by 3 million.
So, with such a razor-sharp margin, any normal president would have at least given lip-service to unifying the country and governing-for-everyone. Of course, Trump is no normal president but until now, it hasn’t gone so terribly for him. He’s maintained a low but steady approval rating of between 40 and 45% with two spikes to 49% earlier this year.
Yet the pandemic and civil unrest appear to be his kryptonite. This is not some gut feeling of mine, nor some an observation based on my lefty-filled Facebook timeline, it’s backed by numbers. Especially interesting polling numbers from New York Times and Siena College because they focus on six swing states that Trump won in 2016: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina. Presumptive Democratic candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden currently leads in all six and not just tiny little leads but robust ones of 6 to 11 points.
Because Trump’s strategy has been to please this narrow group, much to the displeasure of everyone else, any victory he might pull off in November is even more dependent on winning these particular states. Times-Siena also did a nationwide poll that shows Biden leading by whopping 14 points, 50 percent to 36 percent. But as we well know, the name of the US presidential game is winning states.
Why should we believe the polling that failed us so miserably in 2016? Good question. The answer: it’s still our best measure of what’s happening right now. However, it’s not a great predictor since a whole lot can happen in the four months between now and the election. That said, it does tell us that despite his superpower, a Trump loss is possible. Some analysts go so far as to say that a Biden blowout is possible. But most Democrats are still suffering from 2016 PTSD and are inclined to not get excited about any numbers until they are actual election day results. They are right and should run scared until they cross that finish line.
Who’s leaving Trump? Even better question. He didn’t have much support among African Americans and Latinos to begin with and those numbers have mostly held. He is hemorrhaging support among white voters, which is especially painful since his base is, well, white. White people without university degrees still go for Trump by a 16% margin but that’s down ten points from 26% in 2016. On the other hand, white, university educated voters in these states favored Clinton by 6% in 2016 and now Biden has a 21% lead among these voters.
But probably the most damning figure of all is that of white people 65 and older. These people vote and tend to lean Republican and are the reason why the Republican Party hasn’t completely collapsed. These people favored Trump by 13 percentage points in 2016 but in a 19 point shift, 6% more of them are on team Biden. That’s an astounding turn around and Times interviews with these people shows that the Trump’s shaky handling of the pandemic has much to do with it along with his total disinterest in trying to unify the country in the face of Black Lives Matter protests and social unrest.
But again, division has been his strategy, from turning the wearing of masks into an ideological symbol to violently clearing non-violent protesters out of Lafayette Park for an ugly photo opportunity involving a church and a bible. Former Obama advisor David Axelrod summed it up well, observing that Trump is “shrinking his vote to excite his base.”
The numbers paint an ominous picture for Trump but again, the election is still four months away. The pandemic is only getting worse in the U.S. and even if the Black Lives Matter movement starts to lose steam, police violence against African Americans carries on, will surely rear its ugly head again and bring on a fresh new wave of protests. Some Republicans and Fox News pundits have floated the idea that Trump might drop out of the race, but I’d say, not a chance. It looks bad for the orange man, but he’s wriggled out of so much stomach-churning nastiness that while it’s possible to believe that he’s beatable, it’s impossible to count him completely out.
This op-ed was published in Spanish in El Español.