The Slatest

Trump Has a Long Way to Go to Convince Americans He’s the Right Candidate to End Racial Unrest

Vincibility Watch processes the convention.

A Black woman standing in the front yard of a house with a toddler holds her right hand up in a fist.
A Kenosha, Wisconsin, resident shows support for demonstrators protesting the shooting of Jacob Blake. Scott Olson/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).

On Thursday, the Republican National Convention culminated with Donald Trump’s pitch to American voters. The subject most heavily emphasized by Trump and the speakers who preceded him was urban disorder, with many references to violence and looting associated with Black Lives Matter protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and Portland, Oregon—unrest that, it was said, will spread across the country if Joe Biden is elected on a purported platform of empowering radicals and freeing hundreds of thousands of criminals from jail. (The latter part is not how Biden would characterize his own position on cash bail, to be clear.) A dubiously coherent “good cop” angle was overlaid on the Willie Horton/antifa stuff, in the form of testimonials to Trump’s warm personal relations with Black Americans and his recent history of supporting pardons and early releases for nonviolent criminals.

Trump’s message has a number of problems on the merits, but a political attack doesn’t have to be factually or morally defensible to work; his bigger problem is that all the available polling says majorities of voters support police-brutality protests in general and trust Biden more than him to handle both “race relations” and criminal justice:

• A Fox News poll published Aug. 13 found that 53 percent of voters said Biden would “do a better job” than Trump regarding race relations, while 34 percent said the opposite. Biden also held a 48–42 advantage on the question of who would better handle “policing and criminal justice.” (A July Washington Post/ABC News poll gave Biden a similar 9-point advantage on “crime and safety.”)

• An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll published Aug. 14 found an even wider Biden advantage—58 percent to 34 percent—on the question of handling race relations. The same poll found that 53 percent of the public believes police-brutality protests to be “mostly legitimate,” compared with 38 percent who believe they are “mostly people acting unlawfully.”

• A Navigator Research poll published Thursday found that respondents believe by a 55 percent to 39 percent margin that Trump has failed to “restore law and order to the country,” as he claimed he would during the 2016 campaign. A different framing of the subject found that 53 percent disagreed with the premise that Trump is “keeping America safe by focusing on law and order and supporting the police and law enforcement”; 47 percent agreed. (For what it’s worth, 57 percent disagreed with the Trump 2020 campaign’s claim that “African Americans are doing better under Donald Trump’s presidency than they have under any president since Abraham Lincoln.”)

It’s theoretically possible that the dynamics of the current situation in Kenosha could push voters in Trump’s direction even though similar events have not. Friday morning, though, YouGov released the results of a survey that asked whether respondents supported NBA teams’ Wednesday decision to sit out playoff games “in protest of police shooting Jacob Blake, a Black man from Wisconsin.” Fifty-seven percent supported the player strike; only 28 percent opposed it. The last major violence to have been reported from Kenosha, meanwhile, is the case of a 17-year-old Trump supporter who shot and killed two protesters with an assault rifle on Tuesday night.

A somewhat unrelated question that YouGov also released results for on Friday puts a button on Trump’s problem. The polling outfit asked respondents to identify the greatest threat to the United States from a list of “isms”—fascism, socialism, communism, capitalism, and anarchism. (“Don‘t know” was also an option.) When you combine the percentages of people who selected socialism, communism, or anarchism—the philosophies that Republicans, on Thursday night, warned that Biden would unleash on our once-proud country—you end up with a total of 41 percent. Trump’s current support in the FiveThirtyEight polling aggregate: 41.8 percent. There’s no radical-fearing room for growth there.

As others have pointed out, Trump doesn’t need to create a law-and-order landslide for his message to work; he just needs to peel off enough white moderates in swing states to win. But the available evidence says that even if he could snap his fingers and make the election solely a referendum on anti-racism protests and chaos, he’d lose to Biden by about as much or more than he’s currently projected to. Despite the arc of this week’s news cycle, we determine that pending further data measuring whether or not he will enjoy a convention bump, Trump is STILL THE SAME AMOUNT VINCIBLE AS BEFORE.

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.