From Jeffrey Goldberg’s Atlantic article, which alleges that President Donald Trump referred to soldiers who died in battle as “suckers” and “losers” — a claim Trump denies — to Michael Cohen’s book that paints the President as a bigot, a liar and a fraud, the avalanche of negative news for the President is coming at the worst possible time for him: less than 60 days before Election Day.
And let’s not forget that Bob Woodward, the legendary Washington Post reporter, is due out with a book next week that is likely to add to the President’s headache.
Realistically, Cohen’s book is not likely to move a large number of voters. Democrats who support Joe Biden will revel in the portrait Cohen, who was Trump’s personal attorney, paints of his former client, but they’ve already made up their mind on voting for Biden. Trump’s base will dismiss Cohen’s allegations as coming from a proven liar and because they consistently believe the President’s version of events — no matter how convoluted it may be.
But that’s not to say it won’t have an impact. Close elections are decided by small movements in voting blocs.
Hispanics are likely to be a bigger and more discussed group coming out of the Cohen book, which alleges that Trump described Hispanics as “not my people.” The book also claims that Trump believed that they were “too stupid” to vote for him.
Although Cohen claims that Trump made the same comment about Black voters, it’s the Hispanic vote over the last four out of the last five Presidential elections that has been a decisive factor for Republicans. Prior to Trump’s election, the previous four elections showed that if you’re a Republican and get more than 35% of the Hispanic vote, you’ll win the election. In 2016, Trump received 28% of the voting bloc. Imagine what could happen if it dropped lower than that in 2020, when it’s clear that he needs all the help he can get.
The revelations from Goldberg’s Atlantic story are more problematic for Trump. Despite only quoting anonymous sources, Trump has said enough negative things about the US military in public — including stating he knows more than the generals and saying in a 2015 forum that John McCain was not a war hero because he got captured — to make many believe that the allegations are credible.
Active duty and veterans have traditionally been a group Republicans have counted on for support and a Cooperative Congressional Election Study found that Trump won veterans and active duty troops by a 27-point margin compared to Hillary Clinton in 2016. These numbers may be hard to match and, according to Harry Enten, CNN’s polling analyst, Trump can’t win without veterans and our active duty soldiers.
We don’t know what’s in Woodward’s book, but given his track record for getting people on the inside of a White House to dish dirt, particularly the Trump White House and the number of former Trump officials who seem to be getting things off their chest, it’s not likely the book will be good news for Trump.
While it might be argued that these books and the allegations contained in them are already baked into voters’ impressions of Trump, the timing of the publications is critical. This is a very unusual election given the restrictions that Covid-19 has put on both the candidates and the public. The most significant variable is just how short this campaign will be. The country has been focused on the pandemic, not the Presidential race, for most of the year. It’s only now, post Labor Day, that the public is increasingly turning its attention to the election.
And those days are precious for Trump as he is facing an uphill battle in his race to stay in the White House. He is losing by a significant margin in national polls and, more importantly, in the battleground states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Biden’s lead is not insurmountable, but it will take focus and consistent messaging from Trump to change the narrative in this race.
Trump can’t win if the election is about him. He needs to make the election about Biden. And Trump seems to know this. That’s why he oddly keeps blaming the country’s problems on Biden as if Trump was the challenger — not the incumbent. But I believe voters have a good sense that the pandemic, which has led to the economic shock of the last few months, was mishandled by no one else but the Trump administration.
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For Trump to make the election about Biden in a way that makes Trump look like the better choice — by making Biden look like a socialist and someone who is weak on crime and supports the protests over the police in America — Trump needs time and a concerted effort. But time is running out. Voting has already begun in North Carolina and more states will begin early voting in the coming weeks. Perhaps the most damaging feature of these books and article is the way it steals time from Trump. To win, he needs to control the narrative for the next few weeks. But these new revelations rob him of the ability to make it about Biden consistently and continuously.
Even the most disciplined and effective candidate would struggle in a time of a public health and economic crisis. And Trump is one of the least disciplined candidates we’ve ever seen. The time for his campaign is right now. But can he drive a consistent narrative and not chase every last grievance? Or will he continue to lash out and let negative news about him define the race? History tells us that it’s much more likely to be the latter.
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