The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion How Trump can win reelection

(Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
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Republicans are getting desperate about the state of President Trump’s reelection campaign — and you can’t blame them. It isn’t just that polls show Trump trailing Joe Biden by about 10 points. It’s also that the campaign itself is an absolute mess.

Look no further than the fact that Jared Kushner, fresh from failing to achieve peace in the Middle East, manage the coronavirus response, reinvent government or solve the opioid crisis — all tasks his father-in-law assigned him — has now “asserted further control over the campaign,” according to Politico. If you’re a Republican, does that make you feel better?

Meanwhile, the New York Times describes “frenetic, and often fruitless, attempts by top Republicans to soothe the president and steer him away from self-sabotage, while also manipulating him to serve their own purposes.” It’s so bad that aides are afraid to tell Trump the truth about how poorly he’s doing.

Fortunately, I have the answer they’re looking for. There is something the president can do to turn things around in the four months he has left before the election.

It’s not a staff shakeup, or a newly honed message, or a wittier nickname for Biden. All he has to do is change absolutely everything about how he confronts the two great crises facing the country. In other words, if he wants to get reelected, he needs to do his job.

That would start with admitting that his performance in confronting the novel coronavirus pandemic has been a disaster. While many other countries have gotten the virus under control, here in the United States new cases have shot past 50,000 a day, and at least 126,000 of us have died. It’s getting worse, not better.

As President Trump threatens to unleash the military on American cities roiled in civil unrest, it's clear that he's embracing his inner Nixon. (Video: The Washington Post)

So instead of continuing to talk about how, before you know it, the virus will disappear, Trump could make a fresh start in both his actions and his rhetoric. “I thought that if I pretended that things were going great, people wouldn’t realize how bad everything is,” he could say. “I was wrong.”

Trump could then tell the country that we’re in a moment of inflection, when we can either get a handle on the pandemic or watch as everything all of us have done up until this point begins to look like a waste. And his government could immediately bring in people with actual expertise in public health and crisis management — not some of Kushner’s buddies — to run a national testing and tracing program, make sure personal protective equipment is available, and create uniform standards for both how to maximize safety and how to carefully resume normal activity.

“We’ve been doing this wrong,” Trump could say. “That ends today.”

Next, Trump could say this to the public: “If you’re going to be in proximity to other people, particularly indoors, wear a mask. I’m going to be modeling good behavior, so from now on, whenever you see me with others close by, I’ll be wearing a mask.”

If even the governor of Texas can swallow his pride and order masks to be worn in public across most of the state, and even a Trump lickspittle on “Fox & Friends” says, “I wish the president would put on a mask every once in a while, just because it would make him look as if he’s taking it seriously,” then Trump can at least do that.

The next thing Trump could do if he wants to save his reelection is to do everything possible to alleviate the economic effects of the economic crisis. Forget about photo ops at factories, forget about ridiculous cheerleading for the stock market, and actually take action to get us through this economic nightmare.

That would mean extending enhanced unemployment benefits, giving state and local governments every dime they need so they can avoid the millions of layoffs that are coming if the federal government doesn’t help them out, and giving Americans at least one more round of stimulus checks, if not more. Instead of sending his treasury secretary to negotiate down from what Democrats ask for and acting as if he’s reluctant to do anything that might actually prop up the economy, he ought to be trying everything anyone can think of to put money into the economy so we can recover.

If the president made this turn tomorrow, the pandemic and the economic crisis wouldn’t be behind us by Nov. 3. But at least we’d be headed in the right direction, and it would be possible that voters would decide that he’s doing a good job and he deserves to stay in office.

But of course, he won’t do any of that. The relatively simple things I’ve laid out here read like an absurd fantasy. Doing the job of president at the moment when America needs him the most runs against everything Donald Trump is.

Read more:

Paul Waldman: Brad Parscale is wrong. The campaign probably can’t save Trump.

Greg Sargent: Biden just slammed Trump on a new and hidden vulnerability

Jennifer Rubin: Voters — even Republicans — are down in the dumps

Paul Waldman: How Donald Trump will finally kill the Southern Strategy

Marc A. Thiessen: Trump’s rhetoric is driving away suburban swing voters. He needs them to win.

Jennifer Rubin: The new polling normal for Trump: Crummy