If President Donald Trump wants to convince voters that he deserves a second term, he must spend the remainder of the campaign clearly explaining what he intends to accomplish if he's granted one. He is not doing so effectively.
Many people have begun writing obituaries for the Trump presidency, but even if one regards this as premature, it is clear that he's in significant danger of losing and has only four months to turn the tide of his fortunes.
Polls understated Trump's chances in 2016, but Joe Biden is also doing much better than Hillary Clinton at the same point four years ago. He holds a 9-point lead in national polling and is also leading comfortably in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, which were key states in Trump's upset victory last time around. Biden is also ahead in states once considered safer for Trump, including Florida, North Carolina and Arizona.
Even more important than the daily horse race numbers this far out are the fundamentals. Despite two months of improvement, the unemployment rate is still at 11.1%, and with another surge in coronavirus cases leading states to reverse their reopening plans, it will make it that much harder for the economy to bounce back quickly enough to improve Trump's election prospects.
On the most important story of the year, the public disapproves of Trump's response to the coronavirus by 67% to 33%, according to an ABC News/Ipsos poll. Among independents, just 26% approved.
That's why, in addition to improving his performance on the handling of the coronavirus, Trump needs to do a better job of laying out what he wants to do with four more years.
Last month, in a friendly interview, Sean Hannity asked the president about his priorities for a second term. Trump responded with a rambling answer that began: "Well, one of the things that will be really great — you know, the word 'experience' is still good. I always say, 'Talent is more important than experience.' I've always said that. But the word 'experience' is a very important word." And it ended with admitting to the mistake of hiring "an idiot like [John] Bolton. All he wanted to do is drop bombs on everybody. You don't have to drop bombs on everybody. You don't have to kill people."
Given a second chance at the same question from Hannity last week, Trump was a bit more coherent. He talked about defeating the "invisible enemy" of the coronavirus, rebuilding the economy, strengthening the military, protecting the Second Amendment, and appointing good judges.
But he hasn't returned much to that message, let alone hammered it home, as he needs to.
In the past few days, he's pushed personal vendettas. He attacked Republican Sens. Pat Toomey and Mitt Romney as "RINOs," he continued hammering his former Attorney General Jeff Sessions as "a disaster who has let us all down," he defensively tweeted about how fast a golfer he was, and he lamented that "the Radical Left has scared Fox into submission."
Meanwhile, he promoted tweets implying that everybody, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was "lying" about the coronavirus, and another one taking aim at "Dr. Fauci and the Democrats" as his White House astonishingly circulated a memo criticizing Anthony Fauci for having been wrong about various aspects of the coronavirus.
Trump's defenders might argue that he is pursuing the same political strategy that worked for him four years ago. But there's a big difference between running as a challenger and running as an incumbent with a record.
Trump's attacks on Biden have fallen flat because Biden is not as viscerally disliked as Clinton was four years ago. Simply mocking Biden's many verbal miscues is not going to be enough.
Instead, in the closing months, Trump has to give the public an affirmative reason to vote for him by outlining a positive second-term agenda.
REPRINTED FROM THE COLORADO SPRINGS GAZETTE
Photo credit: geralt at Pixabay