The magnitude of President Trump’s polling collapse is breathtaking. The Post-ABC News poll in March showed his approval rating nudging into positive territory (48 percent approval vs. 46 percent disapproval); the latest poll released on Sunday shows him back in negative territory (45 percent to 53 percent). His personal favorability is net -13. His rating on handling the coronavirus has gone from a net +6 to a net -7.

Even more dramatically, from a statistical tie (49 percent to 47 percent) in March, former vice president Joe Biden’s lead has soared to a 10-point lead (53 percent to 43 percent). Biden has an enormous approval advantage among groups critical to his victory. “Currently, suburbanites are more favorable toward Biden than they were toward Clinton in May 2016, with Biden at 50 percent favorable compared with 38 percent who were favorable toward Clinton then.”

The poll was completed before the extent of the reaction to George Floyd’s unjustified killing had played out. Nevertheless, there are several points worth stressing.

First, though intensity of support for Biden lags Trump’s, the backlash provoked by Floyd’s killing could well increase the strength of Biden’s support. A historic vice president pick might help generate more excitement, particularly if Biden selects a woman of color. In the current context, that could be seen as not just a rebuttal to the MAGA crowd’s racism but also a reminder to Democratic voters how critical is this election.

Second, while the Floyd killing underscored how entirely Trump lacks in leadership skills and empathy, no one knows five months before Election Day how this episode will unfold in the weeks and months ahead. Normally, a Republican might be able to tap into a backlash against violent protests, as Richard Nixon did in 1968. That worked, however, because a Democrat was in the White House. Trump cannot be the law-and-order president if the cities are on fire. So far, he looks weak and pitiful, utterly incapable of meeting the moment.

Third, violence in the streets may deepen the two other crises occurring on Trump’s watch: the pandemic and the economic collapse. Retail businesses that were already struggling to stay afloat may have experienced damage and/or looting, or more generally, that may have driven people back into their homes, now doubly concerned for their safety. The proximity of thousands of demonstrators, even if many are masked, raises the potential for a new surge in coronavirus cases among the very groups (e.g., African Americans) already hardest hit by the pandemic.

Fourth, it is entirely possible that Trump’s performance will get even worse. A massive and disproportionate reaction from law enforcement, God forbid, may result in even more prolonged, destructive demonstrations. The longer Trump is viewed as overwhelmed by the explosion of racial animus and violence that he helped ignite, the greater the thirst for change.

In sum, Biden could well be heading for a decisive win. However, no one should underestimate Trump. One thing we know for sure: He will have no qualms about making racial divisions deeper and instigating violence. He’s done it before.

Trump's tweets telling minority congresswomen to “go back” to their countries follows a history of racism and nativism. Voters will decide if this is effective. (The Washington Post)

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