Tuesday, October 20, 2020
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WORLD | 10-10-2020 09:16

Is time running out for Donald Trump?

US president is desperate to get back on the road, despite coronavirus diagnosis. But his chances of winning look to be fading, with little time left to recover.

While the lesson of the 2016 campaign was never to count out Donald Trump, his path to re-election is narrowing dramatically as Democrat Joe Biden’s lead continues to grow and voters sour on the president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump now trails Biden by an average of 9.7 percentage points nationally, and by about five to seven points in key battleground states, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polling. With little over 20 days left, it’s not clear how Trump can make up lost ground.

The challenge got even harder Thursday when Trump rejected the idea of a virtual debate with Biden next week, erasing one of his few remaining opportunities to change the trajectory of the race.

“I don’t see how Donald Trump catches Joe Biden without having two debates,” Republican pollster Frank Luntz said on Thursday. “Without that debate, I can’t do the math to take him to where he needs to be if he expects to win this election.”

Democrats, still haunted by Trump’s 2016 victory over Hillary Clinton, aren’t yet celebrating. Clinton enjoyed a 5.3-point lead against Trump, on average, the same number of days before the election four years ago. But there are crucial differences this time, including a much higher favourability rating for Biden than Clinton enjoyed and Biden’s competitiveness in several states Trump carried in 2016, which also could shrink the president’s possible paths to re-election.

The Recpublican leader may yet find a way to pull it out again this year, and he’s said he won’t leave office if he doesn’t believe the results are fair. Polls also may slightly exaggerate Biden’s lead if some Trump voters are undercounted.

But Democrats are growing hopeful that Biden’s lead is large enough that it could overcome small irregularities in polling or any last-minute ballot challenges from Trump that, in that case, wouldn’t be enough to erase a victory. And there are strengthening indications that Trump may take Republican control of the Senate with him.

State polling

Trump owes his presidency to fewer than 80,000 voters in three Rust Belt states – Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which he carried by less than a percentage point each. Biden now leads in Michigan by 6.2 points on average, Pennsylvania by 7.1 points and Wisconsin by 5.5 points, according to RealClearPolitics.

It’s not easy to make a direct comparison between 2016 and 2020 state polls, as pollsters survey different states at different frequencies from one election to the next. But generally, Clinton led Trump by similar and in some cases wider margins before the election four years ago. For example, in Wisconsin, she was leading by about four points; in Michigan by about 10 points. In Pennsylvania, polls showed a range of six to nine points, depending on the survey.

“If public polls were to be believed, we’d be talking about Hillary Clinton’s re-election campaign right now,” said Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh. “The news media should get out of the business of predicting the future because they’re really bad at it. We know where the president stands in the states that will decide this election and he remains strong.”

Yet Trump has more problems now than he did four years ago. For one thing, his opponent is far less unpopular than Clinton: Heading into the 2016 election, 54 percent of US citizens had an unfavorable view of Clinton. Only 44 percent now have a negative opinion of Biden, according to RealClearPolitics.

His recovery from Covid-19 has taken him off the campaign trail for a full week and counting, preventing him from in-person fundraising or holding rallies, his political lifeblood. 

And surveys show Trump is shedding support from women, suburban voters, and more recently, voters over 50 who have been unhappy with the administration’s handling of the pandemic. Seniors were a key part of Trump’s 2016 support, but his attempt to build support on a law-and-order platform during a summer of civil unrest backfired.

He already badly lags Biden in fundraising, meaning it’s increasingly difficult to persuade voters through advertising in those must-win states.

“It’s Biden’s to lose,” said Ed Rogers, a veteran Republican strategist and adviser to the Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations, who frequently criticises Trump. “If Trump runs a good campaign from here on out and Biden runs a good campaign from here on out, it probably looks like Biden’s going to win.”

Debate sparring

On Thursday, Trump said he wouldn’t participate in next week’s debate after the non-partisan commission that organises the events insisted it be virtual because the president might still be contagious. That leaves only one more chance, on October 22, for Trump to get a do-over on his first, widely panned televised face-off with Biden -- but even that date is now in doubt as the campaigns argue over the debate calendar.

Trump’s campaign is most concerned with the loss of independent voters across demographic lines who could boost his standing beyond his core base of loyal supporters, one GOP official said. His base alone is probably not large enough in this cycle for him to win outright, the official said.

Aides noted that Trump started losing support after the September 29 debate, where he took an aggressive stance and frequently interrupted Biden, followed by his Covid-19 diagnosis, which forced the national conversation back to the pandemic despite the president’s numerous attempts to steer it in another direction, the official said.

Twitter videos

Trump’s administration is determined to use the president’s recovery from coronavirus as proof that his minimalist approach to dealing with the pandemic was the right one from the beginning. “Don’t let it dominate your life,” Trump told voters in a video message posted on Twitter.

On Thursday, he released another video attempting to reassure elderly voters that if they get sick, the government will pay for the same level of care the president received, including experimental medicines he credits with curing him.

The economy, which had long been an asset for Trump, also now weighs against him. The last two incumbents to lose re-election, Jimmy Carter in 1980 and George H.W. Bush in 1992, both were ousted following recessions. The 7.9 percent unemployment rate in September is higher than at the time of either of their losses.

Rogers likened Trump voters to fickle fans at a long sporting event where the outcome is evident.

“They’re standing, I don’t think they’ve headed to the exits yet,” he said. “But Trump’s had a bad 10 days.”

Trump claims Covid cure in latest bid to relaunch campaign

US President Donald Trump claimed Friday during a media blitz to relaunch his stumbling re-election campaign that his bout with Covid-19 has resulted in "a cure" for the devastating virus.

The Republican was speaking during a marathon interview with right-wing talk radio host Rush Limbaugh – a session sandwiched between Fox News appearances and what Trump hopes will be his imminent return to rallies as he tries to catch surging Democratic opponent Joe Biden.

"I can tell you it's a cure," he said, referring to the experimental Regeneron antibody cocktail that he took as part of therapeutic treatment after being hospitalized last week for three nights.

It's "a total game changer" and "better than a vaccine," he claimed.

In fact, there is no cure and still no approved vaccine for the coronavirus. The highly contagious disease has so far killed more than 210,000 US citizens and continues to erupt in new flare-ups around the world.

Trump's eye-catching claim came amid continuing questions over his true state of health, despite assurances from his official doctor and the Republican president's increasingly frenetic attempts to get out of quarantine and back to campaigning.

In his Limbaugh interview, Trump suggested for the first time that he had been close to death, had it not been for the therapeutic drugs.

"I'm talking to you today because of it. I could have been a bad victim," he said, referring to friends of his who had died from Covid-19.

Trump said that doctors told him afterward, "you were going into a very bad phase." 

"You know what that means," said the president.

According to Conley, Trump is now fit for a "safe return to public engagement" from Saturday.

Trump himself has said he would like to hold rallies in Florida on Saturday and possibly Pennsylvania on Sunday, but that ambitiously rapid timetable looked less likely after press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said it "would be tough" logistically.

 

by Mike Dorning & Mario Parker, Bloomberg

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