This misreading highlights a political vulnerability on Trump’s part that has been exposed by the seismic events of the past few months — pandemic, economic depression and, now, a level of civil ferment sweeping the country not seen in perhaps a half century.
What’s been exposed is this: Trump simply will not, or cannot, operate out of any conception of what’s good for the country — the whole country. Faced with enormous crises, he has tried to pretend they don’t exist, or has tried gaslighting us into disbelieving our own eyes and ears about them, or has used them as occasions to demagogue and incite hatreds in ways he believes will help his reelection.
But all the gaslighting and demagoguery have failed. Indeed, they have only further exposed that vulnerability.
A new $20 million ad campaign from the Democratic super PAC American Bridge homes in on this very weakness.
The group is targeting mostly seniors in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania with spots such as this one, which features a Vietnam veteran who voted for Trump in 2016 but is now voting for Joe Biden, because Biden has “the good of the country in his heart”:
“I wouldn’t bet my life on the next three things that come out of Donald Trump’s mouth,” he says.
The crucial link drawn here is between Trump’s lack of concern for what’s good for the country and his uncontrollable lying. Precisely because Trump has no such concern, he constantly lies to the country about the challenges it faces.
This point is driven home in another one of the ads, which features an elderly Pennsylvania woman talking about the novel coronavirus. Biden, she says, “would have come forward at the very beginning and told people the truth,” that “they had something really dangerous coming.”
By contrast, of course, Trump lied incessantly to downplay the threat, largely because he feared the truth would rattle the markets and imperil his reelection. Here again the nonstop lying is the direct outgrowth of lack of concern for what’s good for the country.
Trump’s lying has grave consequences
Bradley Beychok, the president of American Bridge, tells me the group’s research has discovered a type of Trump voter who doesn’t follow politics closely but has grown persuaded that “Trump only cares about himself” and that “he’s not the president they expected.”
“Right now is a clear moment to hold Trump accountable for not operating in the best interests of the country,” Beychok told me.
Beychok noted that the scale of the crises rocking the country have driven this home even more starkly. On the coronavirus, for instance, his lying has crossed from something that could easily be tuned out into something that concerns countless Americans’ lives and economic survival.
“Where they used to just chalk this up to, ‘there he goes again,’ they’re thinking, ‘now I don’t have a job, now I don’t have any health care, I may be worried about my parents,'” Beychok told me. “He’s saying it’s all fine.”
Indeed, Trump just laughably spun the new jobs numbers as a “rocket ship” amid the most severe economic depression in nearly a century. Ludicrously, his campaign used those numbers to launch a $10 million ad campaign proclaiming “the great American comeback has begun,” even though Trump’s massive failures are a large reason we’re in such a deep economic hole.
It’s precisely for this reason that Democrats believe the stretch between now and Labor Day may be extraordinarily critical. As Beychok told me, Trump is using his massive financial advantage “to recover,” and Democrats need to “make sure that doesn’t happen.”
The damage Trump has done to himself with his lies and failures on the coronavirus is already obvious. But it’s now becoming evident that he badly damaged himself with his response to the protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd, too.
Trump badly misread the moment
A new CNN poll finds Biden leads Trump among national adults by 55 percent to 41 percent. Only 38 percent approve of Trump’s performance — down seven points in the past month — while 57 percent disapprove.
The CNN poll also finds that 67 percent say the criminal justice system favors whites over blacks, that 60 percent say sending in troops is unjustified and — importantly — that 65 percent say Trump’s response has been “more harmful."
The CNN poll might be an outlier. But other recent high-quality polls have put Biden up by seven, eight, 10 and 11 points. And some of these polls have also confirmed that large majorities see the protesters’ grievances as legitimate and broadly disapprove of Trump’s response to them.
Meanwhile, new Marist polling finds that 67 percent say Trump’s response has “mostly increased tensions,” mirroring CNN’s findings.
Trump — who has worked to deceive the country about the true nature of these protests by threatening to send in the military to quell “domestic terror” — thought he could use them to foment hatred and fear, to win back wavering (white) swing voters. But he badly misread the politics of this moment.
That’s only further revealed by the amusing spectacle of Trump’s advisers suddenly scrambling to persuade us that he will now give an address on race and national unity. But such a speech would just amount to the ultimate in gaslighting from a president who has deliberately incited hate for years, all to benefit himself.
And it’s likely to be received by the public as exactly that.
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