President Trump predictably took a victory lap on Thursday after June unemployment numbers showed 4.8 million Americans got jobs last month, bringing the rate down to a still-massive 11.1 percent. The report does not cover the last two weeks of June, when covid-19 surged and plans to reopen slowed or reversed. (Trump took no questions from the reporters, who surely would have quizzed him on his scandalous failure to respond to Russian bounties paid to kill our troops, or to the surge in the pandemic in the states he goaded into reopening.)
Former vice president Joe Biden’s response was effective and telling for several reasons, illustrating why he is running laps around the incumbent president. (In sync with other recent polling, the Monmouth national poll shows Biden leading by 12 points, noting: “Half of all registered voters have ruled out backing Trump. . . . He must convert some of those unlikely supporters if he is to win a second term.”)
First, Biden highlighted the good news contained in the report. “Like every American, I’m glad that millions of American workers are back on payrolls and that this historic unemployment we still face has at least come down a bit more,” he said. “This is a good day for every one of those individuals and families who regained their security.”
Second, he addressed the bigger worry for Americans, which is not the economy but their own health. He stressed that Trump has all but given up fighting the novel coronavirus: “Yesterday he reiterated his belief that the virus was going to disappear,” adding, “today he described what was happening as ‘fires’ flaring up in the country. That’s just not an honest assessment of what is happening. And it’s not just me saying that — the rest of the world knows it too.” Trump is still denying the central cause of our economic collapse and the reason we have lost 126,000 Americans. As Biden argued, the current crisis is the result of “Trump’s leadership and total mismanagement of this crisis from the start.” And worst, Biden said, “[H]e’s surrendered to this virus.”
Third, contrary to Trump’s chest-beating and “America First” rhetoric, voters know we are doing worse than the rest of the world. Biden spoke to the mixture of anger, shame and disgust many feel as they see other countries effectively reopen. “Other countries have figured out how to get the virus under control, reopen their economies, and put their people back to work,” Biden said. “Other leaders didn’t waste the time they were given from stay at home orders — they got to work solving the root cause of this crisis — the coronavirus. Donald Trump’s just given up. He’s not even trying to secure our public health anymore. He’d rather get back to his campaign rallies.”
Fourth, Biden said out loud what anxious Americans are thinking:
For parents who are worried their kids can’t go back to school in the Fall, do you feel like this is “mission accomplished”?And for people in states where COVID-19 is spiking, and we’re seeing record-high numbers of infections — do you feel like this crisis is under control?Of course not. People are scared. They’re worried about their families and for the future.But, just like last month, President Trump has spiked the ball and made this about him.
Fifth, Biden reiterated what most voters already know: Trump cares only about himself. “He’s not interested in uniting us to fight our common threat. He’s decided he has more to gain by dividing this country for his own political purposes. . . . Has he even once expressed real empathy for the families who will never again be whole because of this virus? Has he done anything real to prioritize support for working Americans who need help now?” Trump won’t even take minimal steps to set an example for others, such as by wearing a mask.
Sixth, Biden focused on inequality and unfairness — something Trump ignores or lies about. “President Trump touted the job gains for African American workers. But unemployment for black men actually rose — from 15.5 percent in May to 16.3 percent in June. He touted the numbers for Latino unemployment — but those numbers are still more than three times higher than they were before this crisis started."
Finally, Biden aptly painted a picture of an inept president overwhelmed by a crisis:
[J]ust yesterday, he was once more claiming that the coronavirus would “just disappear, I hope.” It’s like deja vu all over again. We’re months into this crisis and that’s still your best answer? Quit hoping for the best, Mr. President. Quit claiming victory with almost 15 million Americans still out of work because of this crisis. Quit ignoring the reality of this pandemic and the horrifying loss of American life. Act. Lead. Or get out of the way so others can.
Biden doesn’t sound like he is rooting for failure. Instead, he’s focused on what voters care about, reminds us Trump is “losing” to the rest of the world, shows empathy for everyday concerns, exposes Trump’s narcissism, addresses inequality at a time Americans’ conscience has been elevated and correctly portrays Trump as weak. Trump may be his own worst enemy, but Biden has figured out how to capitalize on Trump’s flaws.