The Slatest

Trump Vincibility Watch: Uh-Oh, Cycling at Random Through All-Caps Twitter Slogans Isn’t Working Anymore

Trump, seen in close-up and in profile, frowns while he listens to a translation of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador via an earpiece.
Donald Trump at the White House on Wednesday. Jim Watson/AFP/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).

Polls this week remain rock-solid in their consensus that Joe Biden is beating Donald Trump in the presidential race by 9 or 10 points. Beneath this top line, the news for the incumbent is even worse. As poll guy Harry Enten explains for CNN, voters’ presidential preference is currently tied directly to their views of which candidate is better equipped to handle the coronavirus, while a survey by the Democratic group Navigator finds specifically that Trump’s approval rating among white Americans 65 and older has fallen 10 points since April, when viral spread was hitting its first peak. Even among white Republican seniors, Navigator discovered, a wide majority is “pro-mask,” and a plurality believes that economic “reopening” should generally be cautious rather than aggressive. Trump, though, has repeatedly pushed for swift reopenings and allied himself with far-right groups that have protested against public health requirements like mask-wearing.

The president, in sum, has tied himself to positions on COVID-19 that alienate older voters at a time when COVID-19 has gotten worse than it’s ever been across most of the country—and particularly in the swing state retirement meccas of Arizona and Florida.

In recent days, Trump has started to indicate that he sort of understands that he needs to find a more winning stance on the virus. Using Twitter threats and executive action, he’s launched an effort to leverage public schools and universities into declaring that they’ll open for in-person instruction this fall.

There is at least a discernible cause-and-effect political strategy here, given the increasing media coverage—led, as always, by Slate—of the frustration being endured by parents who are simultaneously working from home and providing full-time care for their children. But, as writer Erin Gloria Ryan points out, simply demanding that schools reopen is the kind of failure-guaranteed faux-savvy ploy that replicates the flaws of other Trump reelection messaging efforts, like tweeting the phrase “LAW AND ORDER” at seemingly random intervals. Telling schools to accept students without providing funding to implement protections against viral spread, and without forcing the closure of public spaces like bars and gyms—which could help reduce infection rates before the school year begins—won’t help parents. Instead, it will create confusion and anxiety around safety standards, insert culture-war conflict into already-fraught local decision-making, and possibly trigger teacher strikes. In the same way, praising the Confederate flag and ordering beatdowns of peaceful protesters creates less “order,” not more. Prioritizing middle-class stability has certainly been a winning strategy in the past for U.S. politicians, but at the moment Trump is only emphasizing that he is the one causing the instability to begin with.

This also means Trump, rather than Joe Biden, remains in the center of election coverage. The Trump campaign’s negative messaging, whose ostensible goal is to lower Biden’s standing in the eyes of independent and low-information voters, isn’t gaining any traction: The president’s surrogates, for example, are currently trying to make a big deal out of the idea that Biden is afraid to debate, but you would have had to be a pretty hardcore politics junkie to have read anything about that topic this week. Nor has Trump succeeded, as he did in 2016, at exacerbating left-liberal divisions. As a New York Times–Siena College poll released Wednesday showed, Democrats who voted for Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 primary are almost unanimous in their intention to vote for Biden.

Put another way, Trump hasn’t been able to get any wedges stuck in between the wings of the Biden coalition because he’s too busy hammering them into his own eyeballs. Like a squirrel that can jump safely from branch to branch 30 feet off the ground, but idles in a street because it cannot comprehend the speed and size of an automobile, the president is losing voters because he cannot comprehend that taking a binary social media position about an inflammatory cable-news topic, as effective as it has been for him in the past, is not the solution to every political problem. He is, for now, MODERATELY NON-INVINCIBLE.

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.