The Slatest

Trump Vincibility Watch: Bouncing Back From COVID-19 but Not From Being Way Behind in the Polls

Biden, seen from afar, gestures towards someone inside an airplane as he boards it via staircase.
Joe Biden in Fort Lauderdale on Oct. 13. Chip Somodevilla/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).

Truly, we here at the Vincbility Watch are not trying to be Contrarian Overconfidence Guys, unctuously mansplaining to nervous Nellies, panic fetishists, and Twitter People Who Respond to Everything by Saying “And How Did the Polls Work Out in 2016?” that Joe Biden is much likelier to beat Donald Trump than Hillary Clinton was. It’s just that it’s hard to find any evidence anywhere that Trump is making up or could make up the ground that he would need to in order to win another upset.

Let’s start with the national polls. Since the Sept. 29 debate and Trump’s ensuing COVID-19 case, Biden has gained three points in the FiveThirtyEight aggregate and now has a 10.5 percent lead. There was no “sympathy bump” for Trump and there hasn’t been a recovery bump. Trump’s best recent result was from Rasmussen, a notoriously Republican-friendly organization, which still had Biden beating him by 5 points. Per the conventional wisdom, that would still likely be a large enough national lead that Biden would win the electoral college.

Speaking of everyone’s favorite “college,” Biden’s state-by-state leads are strong too. He is up by more than six points in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, margins that should be impervious to any absentee ballot-disqualification scheme—and which, if they hold up, would almost certainly guarantee him the presidency. He’s stopped ceding ground in Florida, while North Carolina is starting to look as solid as Arizona; even Ohio is poking its head in, like, hey, remember me? I’m Ohio! The Cleveland Browns are good somehow, anything could happen here, maybe I’ll be a swing state instead of a red state again! Did you know seven presidents were born in Ohio? From Rutherford B. Hayes to—okay, that’s enough, Ohio.

What about undecided voters? That subject is also bad news for the Big Guy Who Recently Contracted the Coronavirus. By Reuters/Ipsos’ count, there are half as many undecided voters right now as there were in 2016 (eight percent vs. 16 percent). One thing you may notice about eight percent is that it is a smaller number than 10 percent, the margin by which Biden leads in the national polling average (and in Reuters/Ipsos’ individual poll). If every undecided voter decided to vote for Trump, by this measure, he would still lose the popular vote.

A mass movement of undecided voters toward Trump seems unlikely for both empirical and subjective reasons. Biden’s favorability rating has been rising along with his head-to-head lead against Trump; his favorable-unfavorable ratio in RealClearPolitics’ tracker is 51-44, quite impressive for these polarized times, and way better than Trump’s (43-55). It doesn’t appear that Trump could win just by pulling through with voters who don’t like either candidate and decide the incumbent is the lesser of two evils; he’ll have to persuade people who currently say they like Biden and don’t like Trump to switch positions. And he’ll have to do that in less than three weeks, with unprecedented numbers of early votes being submitted every day.

How might he do that? One way could be via a Biden-ticket scandal or gaffe. But voters who watched the vice-presidential debate responded positively overall to both Kamala Harris’ personality and policy positions. A hambrained Rudy Giuliani scheme to inject the Hunter Biden-Ukraine “scandal” back into the news via a New York Post story has backfired, with most mainstream coverage focusing on the errors and inconsistencies in the story (and on the possibility that it included disinformation planted by Russian intelligence). The president has returned to campaigning, but is using his rallies to deliver messages to his deep base that may as well be in code for everyone else:

Twitter regulation and extremely minor Russiagate figure Bruce Ohr: Not on most voters’ lists of topics most relevant to their candidate preference!

In light of Trump’s evident unwillingness to change his own strategy, his best chance is to hope that Joe Biden commits what is known to political science experts as an old-fashioned mega-boner—promising to raise taxes “big time” on the middle class, “especially military families with kids,” that sort of thing—at his Thursday night town hall or the final presidential debate. That debate is scheduled to take place Oct. 22, pending Trump having a tantrum about the questions he gets from NBC at his own, counterprogrammed Thursday night town hall and dropping out because the debate moderator is also supposed to be from NBC.

Which is to say—very VINCIBLE president here.

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