Now we’re learning that the Trump campaign wants to galvanize his base in part by continuing to urge the country to reopen faster. That’s not surprising, except for one thing: This will be happening even as the numbers of people getting infected with the novel coronavirus are spiking dangerously in numerous states that voted for him, something that will get worse in coming weeks.
What, exactly, does this say about Trump’s view of his own base voters?
The Associated Press reports that Trump’s campaign advisers, recognizing that his position against Joe Biden is deteriorating, are “sharpening his focus on his most ardent base of supporters.”
Notably, these advisers describe a strategy that is unabashedly aimed at a minority of Americans, and are not even bothering to try to broaden Trump’s appeal. The calculation is that around 40 percent support Trump and that few additional voters can be won over, leaving only one option:
The president’s campaign advisers believe it comes down to getting a bigger proportion of the smaller group of people who love Trump to turn out than the larger group of voters who express tepid support for Biden.
This has led the campaign to “focus on plays to please the base,” the AP reports, including hyping his wall and promising Supreme Court nominees who will excite social conservatives beyond their wildest dreams.
“Most strikingly,” the AP reports, this also includes “a focus on reopening the nation’s economy over publicly dwelling on the pandemic.”
Trump is playing to a shrinking minority
But this week’s New York Times-Siena College polls found that across six swing states, 55 percent of voters say the federal government’s priority should be to limit the coronavirus’s spread, even if it harms the economy, while only 35 percent say the priority should be restarting the economy.
Here’s a state-by-state breakdown of those findings:
- In Arizona, 54 percent of voters say the priority should be limiting the virus’s spread, vs. only 36 percent who say it should be restarting the economy
- In Florida, those numbers are 54 percent to 35 percent
- In Michigan, those numbers are 55 percent to 33 percent
- In North Carolina, those numbers are 54 percent to 37 percent
- In Pennsylvania, those numbers are 59 percent to 32 percent
- In Wisconsin, those numbers are 57 percent to 37 percent
And so, what’s immediately striking here is how shriveled the intended audience for this strategy has truly become.
Trump keeps pushing away the suburbs
Meanwhile, it’s likely that this will only further alienate the voters Trump needs to win back. And if cases continue spiking, that dynamic could get much worse.
This is driven home by an important new analysis by Ron Brownstein, which finds that the coronavirus spike ripping through the Sun Belt will likely exacerbate Trump’s political problems.
As Brownstein reports, cases are soaring in Phoenix and its suburbs in Maricopa County, which will probably decide who wins Arizona, and in Miami-Dade in Florida. And coronavirus is hitting Atlanta and its suburbs, even as Biden has made Georgia competitive.
The broader story told by Brownstein is that the Sun Belt virus surge could “accelerate” a trend in which the region’s growing, diversifying suburbs are shifting away from the GOP, forcing Trump to squeeze ever more votes out of places that are “shrinking or stagnant in population.”
Even now, GOP governors in Florida and Arizona are suddenly scrambling to contain this new surge, having reopened rapidly, as Trump urged. Now imagine what happens if cases continue spiking, as health experts tell Brownstein they fully expect.
What does Trump, who is now fully committed to a base strategy of cheering on our rapid reopening, say then?
And why does the Trump campaign simply assume his base will continue to be excited by his calls for a rapid reopening if cases are spiking in those states and more people are getting sick? The very presumption is to assume the worst of his voters.
Betting on coronavirus denial
Let’s grant for argument’s sake that Trump’s calls for a rapid reopening are speaking to genuine populist anger among people who are suffering economically and want to get back to work, even if those who want a speedy reopening constitute a small minority.
Even if so, remember that Trump advisers and Republicans are resisting another big economic rescue, in part because they worry that extending supplemental unemployment benefits could discourage people from returning to work.
That’s driven by ideology. But it’s also about creating the illusion that we’re roaring back — a deception effort that’s central to Trump’s reelection — and more financial assistance might disrupt that illusion.
Never mind that if cases keep spiking, that will slow the economic recovery, meaning more people will badly need financial help. Trump is betting it all on coronavirus denial, and his voters are along for the ride.
Can anyone point to any sense in which Trump is operating in their actual interests here?
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