Trump’s Botched Coronavirus Response Could Cost Him Florida

Senior citizens propelled him to victory there in 2016. Now, they are running away from him.

No Republican in 95 years has won a presidential election without winning Florida. But two recent developments should have Florida Republicans uneasy about the state’s role in the upcoming election.

First, a poll released last week by Florida Atlantic University shows President Donald Trump trailing Joe Biden by six percentage points, 47 percent to 53 percent, from May 8-12. This drop is a sharp reversal from the March FAU poll that had Trump ahead by two percent. Other polls earlier in the year—Fox and Quinnipiac—had Biden either defeating Trump by a narrow margin, or found the two in a virtual tie.

Second, this week a federal judge upheld the right to vote for most convicted felons, even if they had not paid their fines. Judge Robert L. Hinkle called the restrictions issued by Florida’s GOP controlled government a poll “tax” and “pay-to-vote” scheme. Republican Governor and Trump Ally Ron DeSantis plans to appeal. There is no question about his motives: Black and Latino voters traditionally support a Democratic nominee and also happen to be the majority of Florida’s returning citizens.

Trump knows that many Florida elections are often decided by razor-thin margins. The potential addition of 700,000 new voters could certainly prove decisive in November.

Even without the addition of these votes, Trump may still be in serious trouble in the Sunshine State. Of course, the president has spent more time in Florida than in any other location outside of Washington D.C. (That was on painful display this weekend, as he hit the links as new data came in showing 100,000 Americans had fallen to the novel coronavirus.) Yet his presence has done nothing to combat Floridians’ wavering confidence in his leadership. Republicans are responding with an onslaught of slanderous Biden ads and nervously dumping millions of dollars into the Panhandle and Gulf areas to energize their supporters.

The economy has quickly become the most pressing issue, cited by Republican voters in the FAU poll, followed by the re-election of the president. Unsurprisingly, Democrats cited defeating Trump as the most important issue, followed by health care. It is clear: The COVID-19 outbreak and the subsequent economic downturn will most certainly be the defining issues for voters this fall.

But with the economy in a sharp downturn, unemployment in the tens of millions, an imminent Recession/Depression on the horizon, and a second wave of the pandemic expected right before the election, Trump is getting cornered by a cascade of events he cannot control. His recent spat of conspiracy tweets—against China, Joe Scarborough, and Twitter—are an obvious attempt to distract the voters.

That stands to reason. A new poll by North Florida Public Opinion Research Lab found that 55 percent of registered voters felt Trump had not gone far enough to contain the spread of the virus. Trump’s approval numbers may continue to fall precipitously if the pandemic and the economy turn into a lingering plateau.

This will hurt him most with the voters in Florida who he needs the most. Trump won Florida in 2016 by a slim 1.2 percent margin over Hillary Clinton, mainly due to Trump’s 17 percentage lead among senior citizens. Yet seniors older than 65, who make up more 20 percent of Florida’s voters, are the most vulnerable to COVID-19, and the president’s own polls reveal a drop in boomer support as he moves to reopen the economy, at the cost of more deaths among this very population. This will also matter in other critical states with large, older, retiree populations, such as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania.

A recent Morning Consult poll unsurprisingly found that the Baby Boomer generation had a larger portion of citizens “very concerned” about the coronavirus crisis compared with younger generations. There is a real fear that a second wave will threaten their lives if exposure risk is not properly handled. Trump’s may have proclaimed May “Older Americans Month,” but if the second wave hits before the November election, no amount of elder recognition will save his chances of winning.

Trump’s erratic briefings on the coronavirus, dismissive demeanor, and acerbic personal Tweets have not helped him with older voters. For the most part, seniors trust their doctors. At the same time, Trump’s disagreements with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top epidemiologist, and other medical authorities have undermined their confidence in the commander-in-chief.

Trump is trying to position himself as the great hero who saves the country from the pandemic and brings back a robust economy. He is promising a vaccine by the year’s end, which gives him a few months after the election to deliver.

But stubborn facts may get in his way. If there are still 25 million Americans unemployed in November, with the Dow below 24,000 and the U.S death toll rising to 150,000 (mainly elderly) people with no treatment or vaccine in sight, there is no way he can spin this. Or win Florida.

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Blake Fleetwood

Blake Fleetwood , formerly on the staff of the New York Times, has written for New York Magazine, the New York Daily News, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Village Voice, the Atlantic, and the Washington Monthly.