President Trump waves as he boards Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)
Opinion writer

President Trump remains deeply unpopular around the country, especially in states he needed to win in 2016. Democrats would be wise to do everything possible to keep the focus on Trump and his awfulness.

The most recent Morning Consult poll contains some stunning results: Trump has net disapproval ratings in Ohio (-5), Michigan (-15), Wisconsin (-14), Minnesota (-18), Pennsylvania (-7), Florida (-2), Georgia (-1) and Arizona (-6). But he remains extremely popular with Republican primary voters (85 to 14 percent), and most don’t want a primary challenger (76 to 20 percent). In other words, Republicans seem dead set on nominating candidates whose prospects of getting to 270 electoral votes are dim, at best.

Keep in mind these numbers reflect where he is when the economy is strong, when the special counsel report has not been released, when congressional and Southern District of New York prosecutors are still combing through his finances, and when hope exists of a face-saving deal with China that would avoid escalation of the trade war. If all or some of those turn out badly, things could really get ugly.

Democrats would be foolish to think, however, there is no way for them to lose. First, if Trump makes the election a choice between himself and a far-left candidate, instead of a referendum on his presidency, he may well survive. Second, if the economy is humming along, voters can decide a good economy outweighs all the things they dislike about him. A good economy is the most valuable asset an incumbent president can have.

Democrats have two tasks. First, avoid picking an obvious target for Trump to shred, either someone far to the left or someone who seems shaky, uncertain, equivocating or weak. He’s got his “socialist” tag ready for the first category. With regard to the second concern — gravitas, strength, leadership abilities — Democrats should consider how their nominee will stand up to Trump. Does he or she have the focus, humor and self-discipline to avoid being dragged down to his level, and does the nominee know where he or she wants to take the country. Trump’s simplistic nostalgia is wrong and misguided, but it is comprehensible. To project strength, the Democrat is going to have to be able to punch through the Trumpian noise and make the case that voters are at risk if Trump gets reelected.

The last consideration — casting Trump not as their protector but as a menace — will be key. Telling voters he’s an awful person may be totally ineffective; they know that already. Telling them that he’s going after their Medicare and Obamacare, hurting farmers with a tariff war, making the gap between rich and poor worse, and endangering the planet for them and their children by willful ignorance over climate change is quite another. The more concrete and immediate the threat (e.g., extreme weather, loss of health-care coverage), the more impact the message may have.

Certainly Democrats should talk about how Trump has undermined national unity, civility and stature in the world, but Democrats should also pay attention to what voters are saying. They hate the chaos, the tweets, the constant turmoil. Perhaps “Let America Be Sane” may be the most effective thing a Democrat has to offer. Hence, they better pick someone calm, authoritative, reliable and drama-free.

Read more:

David Byler: Everyone is underestimating Trump. It could hurt Democrats and Republicans alike.

Ronald A. Klain: Time for Democrats to stare down Trump’s red scare

Ed Rogers: Exactly which Trump policies do Democrats want to undo?

Paul Waldman: Will the 2020 Democrat be progressive, or electable against Trump? Probably both!

Paul Waldman: Should Democrats be as ruthless as Republicans when they have the chance?