The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Warning signs keep mounting for Trump, from polls to primaries

President Trump listens to a question while speaking to members of the media before boarding Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. (Al Drago/Bloomberg)

America’s problems are significant, if not growing. The coronavirus pandemic is expanding with new cases once again, and the country’s shaky effort to climb out of its economic hole is at risk. Things won’t be back to normal anytime soon.

Things almost certainly won’t be back to normal by the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, the day when Americans head to the polls — or must have postmarked their ballots — to weigh in on whether President Trump deserves a second term. And as rocky as the country’s path forward seems at the moment, Trump’s path to a second term doesn’t seem much smoother.

The past 24 hours have brought more bad news for Trump after a rough few weeks. A spate of bad polls revealed his electoral weakness, as did his failure to generate promised turnout at a rally in Tulsa on Saturday. The negative implications of those two developments — that Trump is faring poorly both overall and with his ability to motivate his base — were bolstered by the news overnight.

Potential softness in Trump’s base

When Trump appointed then-Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) to be his fourth chief of staff, Meadows’s seat in the House came up for grabs. On Tuesday, voters in the district went to the polls in the Republican primary to replace Meadows. Trump won the district by 17 points in 2016, so it’s safe to assume that the winner of the Republican primary would win the seat.

Both Meadows and Trump endorsed Lynda Bennett to replace Meadows. Trump did so twice on Twitter, declaring her both times to be “Strong on Crime, Borders, Military, our Great Vets & 2A” — promises that were part of his standard patter in 2018.

Bennett embraced the endorsement. The morning after the contest, her campaign website still touted Trump’s endorsement as the primary bit of information it presented to voters.

It didn’t work. Bennett was beaten easily by 24-year-old Madison Cawthorn, who, if he wins the general election, would become one of the youngest members of the House in history.

During the 2018 elections, Trump regularly touted his track record on primary endorsements as evidence of his political strength. Generally, that boasting was valid; his endorsed candidates did usually win Republican primaries. It was his general-election endorsements that had an iffy record, with about half of Trump’s endorsed candidates winning election in the year’s races. Later research suggested, in fact, that his endorsements in some general-election races might have cost Republicans more than a dozen seats.

But this year, even Trump’s party endorsements aren’t seeing much success. Ballotpedia has been tracking Trump’s endorsements, and, of the four general endorsements he has made (including at the state level) for which results have been determined, Trump is 0 for 4.

Not included in Ballotpedia’s endorsements was Trump’s tacit support for Todd McMurtry in Kentucky. Trump never endorsed McMurtry, but he did say this about his opponent, incumbent Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.):

In another tweet, Trump implored … someone to “throw Massie out of Republican Party!”

Massie won by 70 points, according to early results.

These are isolated examples, certainly. But it does suggest that Republican voters aren’t exclusively taking their cues from Trump. If that reflects a softness in support for Trump, the president might see lower turnout in November, if not Republicans bailing to support former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic Party nominee. This wouldn’t be the only indicator that the energy of Trump’s base is waning somewhat; polling offers similar hints.

Polling, of course, also has other bad news for Trump.

The national polling picture is growing worse

When a CNN-SSRS poll determined that Trump was trailing Biden by 14 points, Trump went ballistic. He tweeted a laughable analysis of the poll, and his campaign followed it with an even more laughable lawsuit accusing CNN of bias. Since then, three other major polls have shown Biden with a double-digit lead: one from CNBC showing Biden up 10 points, one from Fox News showing him up 12 and, on Wednesday, one from the New York Times and Siena College showing him up once again by 14 points.

The Trump campaign’s legal team will apparently be busy filing specious lawsuits this month.

That spate of polls has pushed Biden’s lead in the RealClearPolitics polling average to more than 10 points, his largest lead since late last year, before Biden locked up the Democratic nomination. Trump has never led Biden in the RealClearPolitics polling average and, in fact, has never fared better than trailing Biden by four points.

If you round each candidate’s average, Biden has most commonly been at 50 percent and Trump at 42 percent. Trump’s highest position in the average is 45.6 percent; Biden’s lowest is 46.8 percent.

As Hillary Clinton and Al Gore can tell you, national polling isn’t everything, particularly more than four months from Election Day. But it’s certainly not the case that the polls are good news for Trump. What’s more, it’s not the case that things are getting better for the incumbent president. That CNN-SSRS poll was conducted from June 2 to June 4. The Times-Siena one was in the field two weeks later, with a similarly poor showing by Trump.

This race is all about Trump and Trump’s handling of his job as president — and Trump has been consistently unpopular as his approval numbers have been consistently low. Biden is more popular than Clinton, and Trump has been unable to significantly budge that. He doesn’t have the benefit of being a blank political slate anymore, meaning that he is less likely to get the benefit of the doubt from voters.

Here comes the required caveat: Things can and will change, and Trump has obviously proved predictions wrong before. But when Trump weighs in on a House race in a red state and his preferred candidate in the Republican primary gets beaten easily as national polls show him trailing by double digits, it’s safe to say that he is not in a good position.