Donald Trump
Credit: The White House/Flickr

Politicians who are behind in the polls frequently try to change the subject. Sometimes they say the polls shouldn’t be believed, and other times they say they have unpublished internal polling that looks much better for them. But a well-financed campaign should know where they actually stand with the voters. A presidential campaign should not only know if they’re winning or losing, but which issues are helping or hurting them.

For example, the Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday shows Trump trailing Joe Biden 40 percent to 47 percent. Trump is losing in part because 78 percent of voters are concerned about COVID-19, and 60 percent assign blame to Trump for both the high death count and the school and business closures.

Meanwhile, fewer than one in ten survey respondents listed crime as their top priority, and “62 percentTrum of Democrats and 65 percent of Republicans, said crime was not increasing in their communities.” A small majority (53 percent) is sympathetic to protests for racial justice, including calls for fairer treatment of minorities by the police. This also holds true in the suburbs:

While support for the protesters has declined overall since the immediate aftermath of the police killing in May of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which sparked a national conversation on race, the poll showed more than half of suburban Americans and more than half of undecided registered voters are still sympathetic to them.

The Trump strategy flies in the face of these numbers. He constantly dismisses people’s concerns about the novel coronavirus and instead focuses on the traditional suburban aversion to urban crime and disorder. He demonizes protests that the people narrowly support, argues that the economy is actually good when millions of people are out of work and small businesses are going bankrupt every day; and he has almost nothing to say about health care, which is listed in the Reuters/Ipsos poll as people’s number one issue.

To be fair, the Trump campaign seeks to move these numbers. They want to make people focus on crime instead of police shootings. They want to drive a wedge between the Democrats’ suburban and urban supporters. They want to convince people that the economy was great before the COVID-19 outbreak and that the president is best positioned to help it recover.

However, as things stand, they’re just reinforcing issues where they have a disadvantage. When he talks about crime, he’s not talking about an issue at the top of people’s minds. When he talks about protestors, he’s attacking people who have the public’s sympathy. When he downplays the impact of the global pandemic, he reminds people why they blame him for school closures and persistent unemployment.

The campaign has to know that this isn’t a winning strategy and that voters are not responding, but they can’t convince Trump to adopt a strategy that meets his actual weaknesses or that effectively exploits Biden’s soft spots.

Trump appears to be running the campaign he wants to run, without much concern for whether it has a good prospect for success. Maybe this is because Trump is crazy, or maybe he’s not capable of anything else. Personally, I believe the explanation is simpler. Trump is running a white nationalist campaign because he’s a white nationalist. He wants to inflame racial feeling, on the theory that whites are still a majority in this country and will eventually rally to their own defense if they feel sufficiently threatened. He think this will win him reelection, but more importantly, this is his true purpose for being president in the first place. If he doesn’t try, it’s not worth having the position anyway. His ambition is to roll back nonwhite immigration, whether legal or not, with the purpose of enhancing and preserving white power.

So, the president doesn’t have internal polling that shows his strategy is working. He’s not poll-driven but goal-oriented. Fortunately, so far there is no majority supportive of his goals.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at