Opinion

Trump is crashing and burning

The president's re-election campaign is shaping up to be a historic disaster

Americans really don't like President Trump, who desperately wants to be liked by Americans.

A new poll by The New York Times and Siena College shows him trailing Joe Biden nationally by 14 points, 50 percent to 36 percent. Biden leads among women and nonwhite voters and is gaining ground among white voters. It's possible that Biden leads among former members of the Trump administration, too.

Majorities disapprove of Trump's handling of the pandemic, his handling of the protests following the death of George Floyd, and his handling of race relations in general.

There's good news for Trump, sort of. He leads Biden by 19 points among white voters with no college education (a group he won by 36 points in 2016). The more white and the less educated you are, the more likely you are to support Trump, who on Sunday defended Confederate statues because they are "history" and who on Monday misspelled the word "history."

Trump has never been popular in office. He's the first president never to attain an approval rating of 50 percent in any credible poll. He won the 2016 election with only 46 percent of the popular vote. That's 10 points more than where he is now.

Republicans are criticizing Biden for "hiding in his basement." This is a compliment masquerading as a criticism. That Biden is staying at home during a pandemic is a testament to his deference to public health and his political savvy. Biden knows that no one makes a stronger case against Trump than Trump himself.

In the span of 24 hours this week, the president accused his predecessor of treason, accused Democrats of rigging the election, called his former national security adviser "a lowlife who should be in jail," said we'd have fewer COVID cases if we had fewer tests, posted a racist video, and misspelled "history" and "shame." It was a shameful day in presidential history and a typical day in Trump's presidency.

In Trump we have a president in which incompetence, stupidity, derangement, bigotry, corruption, and dishonesty are each struggling to take the upper hand.

Americans have strong feelings about Trump. Twenty-seven percent of voters view him very favorably; 50 percent view him very unfavorably. Few people are passionate about Biden, which is a good sign. The only way to defeat a personality cult democratically is by replacing it with a personality that doesn't inspire a cult.

Running as an incumbent is different from running as an outsider. Instead of playing on people's grievances, Trump has to placate their anxieties. Instead of saying how awful everything is without him as president, he has to pretend that things are wonderful now that he is. It's hard to pretend that a pandemic and the worst recession since World War II are wonderful.

Trump's challenge as a non-challenger is to talk about anything other than his record. At his rally in Tulsa last weekend, he spent nearly 15 minutes talking about his ability to walk down a ramp and to sip water with one hand. This week — as seven states reported their highest numbers of coronavirus hospitalizations and as 1.5 million Americans filed for unemployment — Trump said the lobster industry was "back, bigger and better than anyone thought possible."

Trump isn't talking about the issues that matter most. He's talking about lobsters, "Obamagate," flag burning, and Confederate monuments because he doesn't want — can't afford — to talk about three crises: the health crisis, the economic crisis, and his presidency.

With nothing to brag about, he is spouting Nixonian catchphrases about "THE SILENT MAJORITY," notwithstanding the fact that his base is neither silent nor the majority. Trump seems to think that by saying or tweeting something, his words will become actualized — that if he says his supporters are the majority, that means they are. Instead of persuading people to support him, Trump is deceiving himself into believing they already do.

To many voters in 2016, the idea of an outsider "shaking things up" was vaguely appealing, precisely because it was so vague. As a political neophyte, Trump could make sweeping promises without having to defend or explain anything. His inexperience was a boon. Having never been tested in politics, he had never failed. He talked like a regular guy, which is to say, like someone who had no idea what he was talking about. He still talks that way.

Now we know the consequences of a Trump presidency: mass death, mass unemployment, civil unrest, an erosion of democratic norms at home, and growing distrust of America abroad. Trump may not learn from experience, but voters do.

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