The Slatest

Trump Vincibility Watch: How the Horrifying Comeback Could Unfold

Trump, seated behind his desk, turns his head to listen to another speaker as McConnell looks on from a chair.
Donald Trump with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Oval Office on Monday. Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

Trump Vincibility Watch is a subjective and speculative estimate of the likelihood that Donald Trump actually loses the 2020 election or, in other words, that he suffers the consequences of his actions for the first time in his life rather than wriggling out of yet another jam (see: the Mueller investigation, the Ukraine scandal, the 2016 popular vote, his six bankruptcies, and everything else).

The continued dire polling, and the Fox News interview in which it was revealed that one of the tasks on a cognitive test he’d bragged about passing is to identify drawings of zoo animals, and the detailed New York Times account of his administration’s mid-April decision not to prepare for a second coronavirus wave, and the growing backlash against the Department of Homeland Security for using unmarked vans to detain an undisclosed number of protesters in Portland, Oregon for vague reasons … once again, it has not been a good week of headlines for incumbent United States President Donald Trump.

But it’s going to be boring to write over and over until November that Trump is probably and deservedly going to lose the election. So let’s look at some items from this week that combine to depict a plausible counterscenario in which he makes it competitive.

The first is Democratic data analyst David Shor’s interview with New York magazine’s Eric Levitz. Shor emphasizes that the disproportionate power of rural states in the Electoral College means Biden’s big national polling lead is more like a merely decent Electoral College lead, and cautions that the Republican convention could trigger stronger feelings of partisanship among GOP-leaning voters who might presently be wobbling on Trump. He also says that, going by the historical average, incumbency provides presidential candidates with a 1 percent advantage.

In other words, “normal” conditions in the U.S. would favor a Republican incumbent. So—could conditions get even a little more normal here by November? Christ, I hope so! One particularly welcome development would be if wearing masks became more of a norm across the entire country, leading to a large reduction in coronavirus infections—and, in fact, there are signs that the severity of recent outbreaks in the South and Southwest is inducing wider mask adoption. As this helpful roundup by the AARP shows, for example, the 10 largest retailers in the country now require shoppers to wear masks. Congress is finally proceeding toward the passage of a fourth stimulus bill, which could give state governors leeway to keep high-risk indoor spaces closed without risking (further) economic immiseration. There have also been positive headlines related to the vaccine development process, which does not mean vaccine deployment is imminent but is better than there being negative headlines related to the vaccine development process, such as, for example, “Scientists Report That None of the Vaccines Are Working.”

By November, then, without counting on Trump to do anything at all except sign a bill and continue to not disparage masks, it’s possible to envision sustained decreases in both COVID-19 deaths and the unemployment rate, creating a tightening effect as fair-weather Republican-leaning voters decide, “Well, I suppose this is fine.” Congressional Democrats also alleged Monday that a Republican-led Senate committee may be preparing to publicize Russia-generated disinformation about Biden’s purportedly corrupt ties to Ukraine, which could generate partisan heat and put off Biden-curious independents.

And yet … this election is going to be between two men whose qualities have already been very well established in the American mind. In that aggregate mind, Joe Biden is perceived as vastly more compassionate, intelligent, honest, and possessed of good judgment than Trump is—and that’s after the months of national attention given to bogus Biden-Ukraine allegations earlier this year. It is already late July, and Trump’s hypothetical convention boost is being pinned on plans to hold an in-person event in Jacksonville, Florida, plans even local Republican officials have described as unrealistic. Biden will get his own convention; giving speeches is something he still does well, and he could benefit from a buzzy vice presidential rollout. On Tuesday he introduced a plan to fund universal preschool for children as young as 3 years old by raising taxes on wealthy real estate investors, a timely proposal that is likely to poll well. Nightmare scenario acknowledged, we must conclude that President Donald Trump is still quite vincible.

A "Trump Vincibility Watch" graphic of six rows containing the letters T-R-U-M-P. The row that is highlighted reads "UMP," with a worker removing the R.
Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo/Slate. Photo by Bryan R. Smith/AFP via Getty Images.