Trump Weighs Prospect Of Defeat After Insulting Both Seniors AND Women
Donald Trump has begun openly acknowledging his precarious re-election chances, but is undercutting his own campaign’s attempts to tailor appeals to women and seniors as polls show them flocking toward Joe Biden. Trump Weighs Prospect Of Defeat After Insulting Both Seniors AND Women
Recent polls have shown Biden with growing leads nationally and in key battleground states, an advantage driven largely by erosion in Trump’s support among women and people 65 and older. Trump’s campaign has begun running more ads aimed at seniors, and hopes some of the loss can be offset by gains among Latino and Black voters.
But the campaign’s efforts to reverse the trends face a headwind: Trump himself. The president has undercut the outreach to seniors by continuing to downplay the coronavirus outbreak and by mocking Biden’s age.
He’s tested what support he still enjoys from women by unloading particularly pointed attacks on Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, and by mocking Hillary Clinton’s failure to crack the “glass ceiling” on the White House. And a televised town hall Thursday was almost immediately derailed by Trump declining to disavow a far-right conspiracy theory movement, QAnon.
Meanwhile, the prospect he may lose re-election has begun to creep into Trump’s speeches, even as he insists that polls are wrong. “I’m running against the worst candidate in the history of presidential politics, and if I lose, it puts more pressure,” Trump said at a rally Thursday in North Carolina. “How do you lose to a guy like this?”
He has reprised a version of that remark at most of his events this week while pointing to signs that polls may not capture the state of the race: the thousands of supporters attending his rallies; Republican success registering voters in some competitive states; boat parades in his honor.
“Polls numbers are looking very strong. Big crowds, great enthusiasm. Massive RED WAVE coming!!!” Trump tweeted Friday morning.
“The president has not been able to sustain a consistent message on issues that are critical to the electorate, whether it be the handling of the pandemic or the economy,” said Ken Spain, a veteran Republican strategist. “He’s taken to making direct pleas to critical demographic groups as opposed to laying out an agenda.”
Trump’s allies have begun voicing their concerns publicly. Texas Senator John Cornyn said in a Fox News interview this week that he is “very concerned” about Trump’s standing in polls, making it even more urgent that Republicans hang onto the Senate “as a firewall.” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said Thursday he thinks Biden has a “good chance” of beating Trump.
Trump himself has been more circumspect.
“I guess the polls are close but I don’t believe the polls,” Trump told an American Enterprise Institute podcast, “What the Hell Is Going On,” in an episode released Wednesday. “We have a lot of people registering as Republicans that never did before. So I think we’re going to be in great shape. I just see it. I see the enthusiasm. It’s incredible.”
Biden’s campaign has also urged caution, in a bid to prevent complacency among Democratic voters. Jen O’Malley Dillon, his campaign manager, said on Twitter this week that “we think this race is far closer than folks on this website think.”
Trump’s campaign said it’s confident with its strategy in the final weeks before the election. “President Trump has effectively made his case to the American people by governing with a successful America First agenda in his first term,” Samantha Zager, a Trump campaign spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
On Monday, Trump’s campaign manager, Bill Stepien, told reporters on a conference call that the president’s standing with seniors would be improved, including through ads aimed specifically at the demographic.
“Messaging that seniors want to see and is being delivered to them,” he said. “So whatever perceived slippage you’re seeing in your numbers among seniors, I’m absolutely certain that it will be addressed.”
But late Tuesday, Trump retweeted a meme mocking Biden’s age, 77, and suggesting he should be a resident in a nursing home rather than president.
At the Thursday town hall, Trump was repeatedly off-message: endorsing parts of the QAnon conspiracy theory, bristling when asked why he hasn’t more forcefully condemned white supremacists and saying that contracting the coronavirus hasn’t made him change his views on masks, which he almost never wears.
As the event concluded, he was offered a chance to speak directly to voters who wonder why he deserves a second chance, and offered little substance. “Because I’ve done a great job,” he replied.
It was the latest instance of Trump undermining his campaign’s reset.
When the campaign tried in May to seize on a Biden gaffe, in which the Democrat said that Black voters who support Trump “ain’t Black,” Trump tweeted a week later about “thugs” protesting the death of George Floyd.
During the summer, as polls showed him losing support among suburban women, Trump started using the term “suburban housewives,” an anachronism. In a Fox Business interview Oct. 8, Trump called Harris — the first Black and Indian-American woman to join a major-party ticket — a “monster.” On Thursday in Greenville, North Carolina, he made fun of Clinton’s loss to him in 2016.
“They talked about the glass ceiling, right, the woman breaking the glass ceiling, and it didn’t work out that way — the glass ceiling broke her,” he said.
He added: “But there will be a woman that breaks the glass ceiling, it just won’t be Hillary. And you know who else it won’t be?
It won’t be Kamala.”
He has recently acknowledged his deficit with women, while noting that he also polled poorly with women before his 2016 victory. In an appeal at a Pennsylvania rally on Tuesday, Trump said: “Suburban women, will you please like me?”
In Iowa, a state where a Senate race between two women could help determine control of the chamber, Trump said on Wednesday: “I heard I’m not doing well with suburban women, OK?”
“It’s true, they say that, but of course they said that last election too. ‘He will do terribly with women, terribly,”’ he continued. “And then when I did great with women, they said ‘Man, he did well with women.’ Same thing’s going to happen.”
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Oct. 11 showed that Biden leads Trump by 23 percentage points among women voters and that the candidates are tied among men, a trend consistent with other surveys.
Trump’s tendency to muddy his campaign’s message is amplified by its dependence on his trademark campaign rallies. He has scheduled a rally every day this week in a frantic bid to close the gap with Biden, after spending more than a week off the campaign trail recovering from Covid-19.
It’s normal for a candidate’s base of support to vary slightly from one election to the next, Stepien said, arguing that Trump’s gains among minorities will make up for shifts to Biden among female and older White voters.
“I’m more than certain that those are going to be offset by gains in certain voting populations — Black, Hispanic and others, based on the president’s appeal, his policies and the outreach he’s been conducting for the last four years,” he said.
Florida Could Seal Trump’s Fate On Election Night
A surge of early votes from seniors has put Joe Biden ahead in this critical battleground. If it continues, we’ll know the identity of the next president on Nov. 3.
Donald Trump has a lot to worry about right now, but winning Florida should be at or near the top of his list. There’s no realistic path to reelection for him without it.
In 2016, Trump carried Florida by crushing Hillary Clinton among voters ages 65 and older, who, exit polls showed, supported him by a 17-point margin. But seniors are a group that’s moved away from Trump during his presidency, and even more so with the onset of Covid-19. Early returns in senior-heavy Florida suggest they may vote in historic numbers.
That would seem to be bad news for Trump, whose support among seniors in a recent Quinnipiac University poll has cratered. The Oct. 7 poll shows Biden winning seniors by 15 points (55% to 40%), up from a 3-point lead in early September.
A senior surge in Florida that mirrors Quinnipiac’s support level for Biden would probably mean that the nightmare scenario of a drawn-out, contested election won’t happen and Trump’s fate could be apparent on election night. Unlike some other states that don’t start counting mail-in ballots until polls close, Florida counts them as they come in.
That means the “red mirage” and “blue shift” that Democrats fear—a scenario where in-person votes put Trump in the lead on election night, but a late surge of mail-in ballots then gives Biden the edge, leading to a protracted legal battle—is unlikely if Biden’s lead in Florida is decisive and the state can be called on Nov. 3. (Michael Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News, pledged last month to spend $100 million in Florida to help Biden’s election efforts.)
TargetSmart, a Democratic data firm, is collecting and organizing early and absentee vote returns in a handy tool that gives a real-time glimpse of how this scenario is developing. As of Monday morning, Florida voters had cast more than 1.6 million mail-in votes in the 2020 general election—nearly 18% of all the votes statewide in 2016. (Early in-person voting doesn’t begin in Florida until Oct. 19.) Seniors account for a staggering 56.9% of votes cast so far, up from 39.5% at this same point four years ago.
The early vote this cycle also tilts much more Democratic than the 2016 results at the same period. At this point in 2016, Democrats led in early voting, but only narrowly. This year, the Democrats’ margin over Republicans is so large—22 points—that even if you added the entire population of unaffiliated early voters to the Republican column, they’d still trail Democrats.
However, as Democrats learned painfully in 2016 when Hillary Clinton lost Florida, an early vote lead isn’t determinative of the final outcome. “The lesson from ’16 on early votes is that if we’re just looking at early votes and saying ‘Dems are winning,’ that was wrong—it wasn’t indicative of a large Democratic enthusiasm advantage,” says Tom Bonier, CEO of TargetSmart.
That’s especially true this year, when a deadly virus that preys on older, sicker people is tearing through the country. It makes plenty of sense that seniors would mail in their ballots early, rather than vote in person on Election Day, giving rise to the possibility that the early surge reflects people shifting the timing of their vote, rather than a movement toward Biden and Democrats.
Certainly, that’s part of what’s going on. But it’s not the only thing happening. There was also a senior surge in 2018—well before Covid—when voters 65 and older ended up casting nearly as many ballots in the midterm elections (35.4 million) as they did in the 2016 presidential election (36 million). That election went terribly for Republicans, with Democrats netting 41 House seats.
What’s more, Bonier points to additional data from this cycle that suggests regular voters getting their ballots in early doesn’t fully account for the early surge. In Florida, as of Oct. 12, the number of “infrequent” senior voters (93,000) is higher than any other group, even though the share of young voters (not a Trump-friendly contingent) has increased more.
More broadly, the number of voters of all ages who have never before cast a ballot—a group Democrats were winning by 6.8 points at this time in 2016—now tilts to Democrats by 14 points.
With polls since 2016 showing a pronounced senior swing from Trump to Biden, the flood of early votes—especially from non-regular voters—is a worrisome sign for Trump. While it doesn’t guarantee anything, as Democrats learned in 2016, it’s certainly not a positive indicator of a second term for the president. It’s probably why a Covid-stricken Trump, captive in the White House as he recuperated last week, felt compelled to shoot a video aimed at reassuring seniors.
“We think of seniors as a very high-turnout group, so we don’t ordinarily think of them as turnout targets,” says Bonier. “But there are plenty of seniors who have never voted before and are voting for the first time. We see that in the data, and we see it in Florida for sure.”
If the surge of senior voters, new and old, keeps up across the next three weeks, Trump’s hope of winning Florida—and reelection—could rapidly vanish on Nov. 3.
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