One such piece is from Axios, which reports that Trump advisers are struggling to “rebrand” Biden. They worry Trump is "running out of time to make suburban moms so scared of ‘Uncle Joe’ that they’ll vote for Trump.”
One counsels: "You’ve got to make it so that a vote for Joe Biden isn’t a vote for Joe Biden, it’s really a vote for his radical left-wing puppet masters.”
The second example, from Politico, develops this further, reporting that Trump allies believe Biden has benefited from his “low profile during the pandemic,” which has made it “harder for Trump to land a punch.”
One key attack line the Trump campaign has settled on, Politico notes, is to portray Biden as “beholden to liberals who want to do away with law and order.”
As my colleague Paul Waldman argues, this won’t work, because Biden prevailed in a primary that positioned him as the moderate alternative to left-leaning candidates.
But there’s an additional layer of absurdity here. These attacks on Biden’s supposed inability to restore law and order are also meant to portray him as too weak to control radical elements in the Democratic Party, irrespective of his personal ideological convictions.
And so, Politico reports, Trump is running ads that depict Biden in cognitive decline, claiming he lacks the “strength" and "mental fortitude required to lead this country.”
Similarly, Trump campaign talking points say Biden’s campaign is controlled by a “left-wing mob,” and that “Biden is too weak to make them stop.”
In service of this idea, of course, Trump and his top officials have sought to cast civil unrest as fundamentally left-wing in origin, badly distorting the true nature of the protests, and playing down the role of domestic right wing extremism in the disorder.
As one Trump ally suggests to Politico, things will improve once Republicans “start defining Biden" with “resources” and "consistent messaging.”
But note the underlying premise here: that the Trump campaign has not adequately communicated to voters that Biden would be too weak to control a country that’s spiraling out of control.
There’s zero recognition of what public opinion actually shows: that Trump’s approach to the protests — the race-war-mongering and incitement of hatred — has been deeply unpopular. There’s no recognition that majorities reject the underlying portrayal of the protests concocted by Trump and his propagandists to sustain the idea that Biden is too weak to control the situation.
Instead, the presumption is that Trump’s approach will be favorably seen as “strong,” relative to Biden’s “weak” one — once the truth about Biden is properly conveyed.
For example, see this wretched Tucker Carlson monologue, which also warns that Trump “could well lose.” But why might he lose? According to Carlson, the coronavirus and civil unrest “should have highlighted his strengths.”
The coronavirus shows Trump was right all along about China, Carlson says. But Republicans and conservatives failed Trump. They didn’t catch on to the nefarious motives underlying quarantines installed by Democratic governors, which were designed to subject conservative voters to spiritual torture and harm Trump’s reelection.
Missing from this is the fact that Trump’s own depraved indifference to the coronavirus, which resulted in a “lost month” of inaction by the federal government after Trump restricted travel from China — a decision Trump constantly touts as lonely heroism — played perhaps the key role in its catastrophic spread here.
Also missing is that cases actually are spiking in many states that relaxed restrictions quickly. Meanwhile, those supposedly diabolical Democratic governors who did instill public health lockdowns — and some Republican ones who did the same — proved far more popular than Trump.
Why? Because in contrast to them, Trump has not prioritized public health, which majorities want done even if it slows the economic recovery. That’s almost certainly a key reason majorities disapprove of his response — a basic truth that cannot be uttered by Trump’s propagandists.
Similarly, Carlson claims the protesters’ cause is supported by Americans only because … Trump didn’t adequately communicate that the unrest is actually domestic terrorism — that is, because he didn’t sufficiently demonize them.
In reality, the violent clearing away of protesters so Trump could hold a photo op with a Bible — acting out precisely the morality play Carlson calls on him to — was perhaps the defining moment of his performance. And after that, large majorities have continued disapproving of his performance and agreeing with protesters’ underlying arguments.
Also note Carson’s presumption that majorities cannot have settled on this view of the protests through their own reasonable perceptions of what’s actually happening at many of them, and through their own evaluation of the legitimacy of the protesters’ underlying grievances.
What all these “warnings” have in common is a refusal to acknowledge the ways in which majorities actually have judged Trump to be a failure in handling the two biggest crises of his presidency. One can imagine that “defining Biden” more aggressively might have an impact on the race. But these warnings will not help Trump grasp the real reasons he’s sinking.