The editorial board of the Trump-supporting Washington Examiner has condemned the president’s attacks on Joe Scarborough, arguing that “observers might even someday look back at this incident as the instant when things began to unravel.” I laughed derisively when I read that, but it’s probably true that there will be people who say this. In itself, the Scarborough incident is nothing new or particularly noteworthy. Accusing a former Republican congressman and impeachment manager at Bill Clinton’s Senate trial of murder is not categorically different from accusing Ted Cruz’s father of involvement in the assassination of a president. Making baseless accusations against his critics is on page one of Trump’s playbook. I don’t think there’s anything game-changing about this story at all, but it coincides in time with a major downturn in the president’s fortunes. It’s quite possible that in retrospect, the two things will look causally related.
For one thing, the Washington Examiner is not alone. The New York Post and the Wall Street Journal have also published editorials blasting Trump over his actions with Scarborough. Why these staunchly pro-Trump editorial boards have chosen this incident as their bridge-too-far is anybody’s guess, but they’ve both put their foot down. Everywhere we look, there are surprising breaks with the president. On Tuesday night, Sean Hannity of Fox News took the extraordinary step of chastising his listeners for following Trump’s example and not wearing masks or observing social distancing guidelines: “If you can’t social distance, please wear the mask. Do it for your mom, your dad, your grandma, your grandpa.” Also, on Tuesday, Twitter humiliated it’s most valuable patron by adding a disclaimer to a Trump tweet explaining his claims about vote-by-mail are untrue.
This is all happening at the same time that fresh compelling evidence is piling up that Trump is headed for defeat and that he’s going to drag the Republican Party down with him. A Firehouse Strategies-0ptimus poll out on Wednesday has Joe Biden leading nationally 54-43 percent, and state polling looks just as bad. Another survey says Trump is trailing in Arizona, while a Tuesday poll showed him leading by a spare three points in Utah. The congressional preference shows the Democrats up by eight points, which is higher than their 2018 midterm advantage and leads Nathan Gonzales of Roll Call to write, “Democrats at this point in the cycle look more likely to gain seats than to lose their majority.”
POLITICO reports that Trump’s 2016 braintrust has already staged an intervention:
David Bossie and Corey Lewandowski, two key allies and former political advisers to Donald Trump, went to the White House last week to issue him a warning: The president was slipping badly in swing states, and he needed to do something to fix it.
Three days later, the Trump campaign’s political directors in Arizona and Florida — states the president won in 2016 but where surveys show him lagging — were summoned to the White House Roosevelt Room. The officials offered a detailed rundown of his organization in the battlegrounds and tried to reassure the president that he was on firm ground.
We’ve arrived at the 100,000 victim threshold in the the COVID-19 pandemic, and while blue areas are trending down, the South is trending up. If that trend continues, Trump’s push to quickly reopen the country will look like a lethal mistake even in his political strongholds.
In a normal political cycle, we’d now be in a climate where Republicans are too concerned about November to give any ammunition to the Democrats by questioning their leader. Instead, the exact opposite seems to be happening, with some of Trump’s most dependable defenders suddenly challenging him. His unsubstantiated murder accusations against a MSNBC morning host are not the explanation or last straw, but this is happening at a time that definitely looks like an inflection point in the president’s fortunes.
There will be people who say that Joe Scarborough cost Trump the election, even if they don’t know what they’re talking about.