It’s been three days since the Republican Apocalypse Now convention mercifully came to an end and if the polls are any indication, Trump and his “distinguished” speakers did a lot of hyperventilating for nothing. If anything, Trump came out of his convention slightly less popular than when he went in.
According to the RCP polling average, Joe Biden currently leads Trump by 6.9 points (49.7 – 42.8). Before the convention, Biden’s lead was 7.6 points (50.0 – 42.4). If that’s what you call a bump, you and I have different interpretations of the word bump. Now to be fair, Biden didn’t exactly get much of a bump from his convention. Going in, he was ahead of Trump by 7.7 points (50.2 – 42.5). Indeed, neither party got much bang for its buck from their respective conventions, which supports a theory I’ve had for quite some time. That these conventions are more for political junkies and wonks than they are for the voters.
The bottom line is this: Biden’s lead over Trump has been fairly consistent throughout this campaign and is much more resilient than that of Clinton’s four years ago. Even more disconcerting for the Trump campaign is that their attempts to portray Biden as some radical who is “a trojan horse for socialism” isn’t working with a majority of voters. And even with the uptick in violence we’ve seen in some of the protests across the country, polls continue to show that voters in general aren’t holding Biden accountable for it.
In fact, there’s an interesting piece by Perry Bacon in fivethirtyeight.com that speaks to the apparent disconnect between the violence and Biden’s polling numbers. Bacon writes,
In the wake of the police killing of George Floyd on May 25, the popularity of the Black Lives Matter movement skyrocketed. By early June, 53 percent of registered voters said they supported the movement, compared with just 28 percent who said they opposed it, according to polling by Civiqs. In particular, white Democratic support of the movement increased from about 80 percent to 90 percent, and there were both more white independents expressing support for BLM and fewer expressing opposition. At about the same time, Joe Biden led President Trump by about 6 to 7 percentage points in FiveThirtyEight’s average of national polls.But between that time and the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday (we have barely any new polling since Blake’s shooting), Black Lives Matter’s surge in popularity ended: About 49 percent of registered voters said they supported the movement, compared with around 38 percent in opposition — similar to BLM’s net approval before Floyd’s death.1 That drop in popularity has largely been driven by increased opposition among white Republicans (80 percent of whom oppose the movement, higher than before Floyd’s death) and white independents (who now support BLM at similar levels as before Floyd’s death).
And at the moment, Biden leads Trump by just over 8 points in FiveThirtyEight’s polling average. Why does all of this polling data matter? Because it suggests that Biden’s electoral prospects and the popularity of Black Lives Matter are not closely linked — at least not so far.
There also could be another reason why voters in general have given Biden a pass on what’s going on in the country. A majority of them realize that in spite of this president’s claims to the contrary, this really is Trump’s America. The violence that is happening is occurring on his watch. It’s a little hard being the law and order candidate when there’s a breakdown of both and you’re the incumbent.
And that is Trump’s real problem, and the one he can’t deflect away from no matter how hard he tries. He IS the incumbent, there’s no getting around it. If you paid close attention to the RNC last week, the central theme appeared to be, “Elect Donald Trump to save America from Donald Trump.” Jesus, I knew the GOP was irony challenged, but I didn’t know it was this bad.
When Richard Nixon ran against Hubert Humphrey in 1968, he was able to capitalize on Lyndon Johnson’s handling of the riots and his unsuccessful prosecution of the Vietnam War. That placed Humphrey in an untenable position that he could never recover from. Trump looks more like Johnson than he does Nixon: an unpopular incumbent that can’t outrun his own record. Be it his handling of the pandemic – which despite what Larry Kudlow said last week is not remotely over – the civil unrest in the streets or the cratering economy, a majority of the electorate view Trump as a president who’s not up to the task of running the country. In short, he’s in over his head.
The best thing Biden can do is what we saw him do yesterday: speak out against the violence regardless of whether it’s from the left or the right.
We must not become a country at war with ourselves. A country that accepts the killing of fellow Americans who do not agree with you. A country that vows vengeance toward one another. But that is the America that President Trump wants us to be, the America he believes we are.
When Biden does this he looks more and more presidential with each passing day. Like his former boss Barack Obama, he’s the adult in the room who can really bring law and order back to this country running against a petulant child who’s sitting next to a can of gasoline and playing with matches.