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Opinion Trump’s frantic new effort to win back seniors is already failing

President Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House on Wednesday. (Sarah Silbiger/Pool/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Here’s President Trump’s new reelection strategy, in a nutshell: Convince vulnerable seniors who rightly fear getting killed by the pandemic that Trump let rampage out of control that they should instead fear getting killed by criminals who would supposedly rampage out of control in a future post-police dystopia that is entirely invented.

Trump just announced a plan to dispatch more federal law enforcement into Democratic cities without the assent of local officials — while offering numerous lurid exaggerations about urban crime and the supposed “radical movement” to “dissolve” police departments.

Meanwhile, at Wednesday’s coronavirus task force briefing, he blamed the current explosion in cases on Mexico and those protesing police brutality, while continuing to urge a rapid reopening of schools and businesses, even though rapid reopenings are plainly a key cause of the ongoing surge.

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What’s the connecting thread between these two? One is elderly people.

You can see this in Trump’s campaign ads. He is running a new spot that depicts an elderly woman calling the police in terror as a marauder circles her house like a vulture, only to find that in “Joe Biden’s America,” the police are no longer there.

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In recent weeks, Trump’s campaign has spent $20 million on the ad and others like it. But that ad is based on a lie: It falsely claims Biden would defund the police. Tellingly, if you listen closely, you’ll note that the person who voices this lie is Trump’s chief propagandist, Sean Hannity.

The fear of death hovers over that ad. It’s no accident that this comes as Trump is bleeding support among seniors, very likely due to his catastrophic mishandling of the virus, because they have the most to fear from it. One threat to seniors is supposed to magically supplant the other.

But here’s a funny thing: Recent polling suggests Trump may be losing the argument over both coronavirus and law and order — even among elderly people.

Losing both arguments among seniors

The most recent Post/ABC News poll found that Americans trust Biden over Trump to handle the coronavirus by 54 percent to 34 percent, and they even trust Biden over Trump to handle crime and safety by 50 percent to 41 percent.

Remarkably, this is also true among voters age 65 and over: They trust Biden more on the coronavirus, 52 percent to 39 percent, and they trust Biden more on crime and safety, by 51 percent to 44 percent.

Another recent poll, from Yahoo News/YouGov, paints a more mixed picture, but it’s still bad news for Trump. It finds that seniors think Biden will do a better job than Trump on the coronavirus by 44 percent to 39 percent.

Yet it also finds the two are at parity on safety: Forty-seven percent of seniors say the country would be less safe if Trump is reelected vs. 40 percent who say the country would be more safe under Trump; forty-seven percent also say the country would be less safe with Biden as president vs. 41 percent who say the country would be safer. Seniors fear they’ll be less safe under either. They’re afraid.

Trump is trying to frighten them even more with images of a fictional police-free future, but older Americans grant no presumption to Trump nonetheless. Meanwhile, Biden is winning the debate over the coronavirus, the clear and present danger in the real world.

It’s obvious Trump is aware of this. On Wednesday, he put on a big show of reading a statement offering sympathy to seniors on the coronavirus, while unveiling new initiatives designed to protect them.

But it’s very late in the game, given all the carnage we’ve already seen. And Trump undercut that effect by delivering a “rosy assessment” that was sharply at odds with “almost every metric" showing "just how badly America is losing its fight against the virus,” as The Post put it.

Meanwhile, it’s unclear how Trump’s new law enforcement push might shift this broader dynamic. Whereas before the Department of Homeland Security sent immigration enforcement officers to battle protesters, the latest plan is to send additional law enforcement from other agencies — such as the FBI — to join existing task forces.

An escalation, or a climb down?

If anything, this might prove to be a climb down masquerading as an escalation. The new move doesn’t seem as focused on creating the authoritarian TV imagery Trump thrills to — and that sparked so much criticism.

Instead, it seems designed to give Trump a way to say he’s not backing down, that by golly, he’s sending in more forces to offset Democrats who weakly and willfully won’t battle crime. Meanwhile, perhaps direct confrontations with protesters will be scaled back. We’ll have to see.

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)

But regardless, now that Trump has made a big show of steamrolling local officials — images of the mayor of Portland getting tear-gassed by the feds is going viral — officials in the newly targeted cities are understandably far more wary, and they’re criticizing the new move.

That will continue feeding the impression that Trump is inciting more civil conflict — that he’s primarily a destructive and instigating force. And this impression is almost certainly why so many Americans refuse to let Trump demagogue them into fearing a police-less Biden dystopia. The danger here is Trump.

Indeed, the deepest flaw of all is that the scenes Trump is using to portray that fictional Biden dystopia are scenes from Trump’s America. It’s obvious that the voters he hopes to win back see him as deliberately stoking all this civil conflict. He’s relishing it all, and everyone knows it.

It just so happens that in this very same America that’s rocked by the violent conflict Trump enjoys so much — Trump’s America — the coronavirus is once again raging out of control, even as he continues to pretend otherwise. No wonder he’s losing both these arguments — even among seniors.

Read more:

Karen Tumulty: Four years ago, Trump said he alone could fix things. What isn’t worse now?

Ruth Marcus: Trump’s agents are sweeping peaceful citizens off the streets. This is not America.

Megan McArdle: Trump’s lies are getting too big to be believed — even by those who really want to

James Comey: Is televised conflict Trump’s goal?

Justice Malala: When I moved to the U.S., I thought it could withstand Trump’s assaults. I was wrong.