At the rate Trump’s poll numbers are sinking, he could open up a used-car lot after the election, that’s how popular he is; or isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the election’s a done deal; far from it. We are, after all, talking about the Democratic Party here. Given half a chance, these people could screw up a sunset.
But there are five reasons why I think 2020 will not be a repeat of 2016, and why that is bad news if you’re Trump and the GOP. I’ll list them in no particular order.
The polls have been historically more accurate than they’re given credit for. I wrote a piece last year in which I made the point that the polls in 2016 were actually pretty spot on. It was only the pollsters, e.g., the talking heads, that didn’t want to believe what the data was telling them. And that data showed Hillary Clinton was in big trouble in the closing days before the election. In fact, several times during the campaign, Trump overtook her in the polls. Yes, she won the popular vote, but she lost virtually every swing state, including Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, and with them the presidency.
Conversely, Joe Biden has led from day one in the RCP national polling and is competitive in states like Georgia and Texas that Trump won comfortably in 2016. He has expanded the electoral map and has multiple paths to 270 electoral votes, unlike Clinton, who needed to pull a clean sweep of the aforementioned swing states to prevail. To date, there isn’t one state that Clinton captured in 2016 that Trump is in position to flip; hence he’s playing pure defense.
Trump can’t play the outsider game the way he did in 2016. To some extent, it was easy for Trump four years ago to run as an outsider. His message was simple. The leaders in Washington were corrupt and incompetent and he alone, we were told, could fix what was broken. Enough people bought in and he won the election. He’s still trying to run on that message, but this time around, he’s the incumbent, not the challenger. He can say he’s not responsible till the cows come home, but it won’t work. This is HIS Washington now and he has four years worth of bad decisions to answer for. To paraphrase Richard Nixon, he won’t have Hillary Clinton to kick around anymore.
Trump’s base won’t be enough to save him. There’s a general assumption that the media often falls for that the people who voted for Trump represent his base. This simply isn’t true. When you drill down deep into the numbers, Trump’s real hard-core support is somewhere in the mid-30s. These are the people who would follow him over a cliff, who would load the gun he would use to shoot someone on Fifth Avenue. The rest of his support is comprised of traditional and moderate Republicans, right-leaning independents and even some blue-collar Democrats, and they are beginning to bail on him. This is the primary reason why Trump is so far under water.
The hatred towards Trump is palpable. It cannot be overstated enough just how unpopular this president is. Next to him, George W. Bush was a cross between Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower. We keep hearing about the supposedly “shy” Trump voter, yet the voters who despise this man are anything but shy about it. From Never Trumpers, to centrists, to African Americans, to progressives, the line of people looking to vote this guy out of office could stretch around the planet several times over. I fully expect turnout in this election to exceed what we saw in 2008.
Trump is constitutionally incapable of admitting he’s wrong. If Trump owned a drilling rig, he’d be halfway to China by now, that’s how deep the hole he’s dug for himself is. And he keeps doubling down irrespective of the reality in front of him. It isn’t just that he’s stubborn – Bush was stubborn when it came to Iraq – Trump takes it to a whole new level. Fresh off the worst response to a national crisis since Herbert Hoover’s bungling of the Great Depression, he badly misread the protests in the wake of the George Floyd murder. Rather than act as the comforter-in-chief the country desperately needs and maybe expand his voter base in the process, Trump is channeling his inner Jefferson Davis at a time when the nation appears ready to deal with systemic racism. And now that the virus he spent two months calling a hoax is negatively impacting red states, he runs the risk of losing voters there, as well. The man simply can’t help himself.
Let me reiterate. November is NOT a slam dunk. Trump is capable of doing anything and everything possible to hold onto power. And his attorney general is already laying the groundwork for challenging the results should Biden win. Democrats need to do two things: 1. Get their voters to show up; and 2. Prepare for a legal battle that will make Bush v. Gore look like an arm wrestling match.
That being said, I’ve seen nothing to indicate that what we’re seeing in the polling isn’t real. In fact, given where the country is right now and Trump’s propensity for making things worse, I wouldn’t be surprised if his numbers continue to erode. It’s possible we could see some tightening of the polls in the closing weeks of the campaign, as is customary, but my gut tells me the dye may already be cast.