Biden’s Approval Rating, G.O.P. Recasts Trump: This Week in the 2020 Race
President Trump, during his convention speech, did little to acknowledge the coronavirus pandemic, warning instead of what would become of the country’s economy and “greatness” if Joe Biden were elected.
Welcome to our weekly analysis of the state of the 2020 campaign.
The week in numbers
- An ABC News/Ipsos poll released at the beginning of the week found that Joe Biden’s favorability rating had risen by five percentage points, to 45 percent, in the wake of the Democratic National Convention.
- That was driven particularly by Democrats: 86 percent of partisans expressed a positive opinion of him, up seven points from Ipsos’ previous poll from the week before the Democratic convention.
- A Franklin and Marshall College poll of Pennsylvania, conducted during the week of the D.N.C., found Mr. Biden leading President Trump in the key swing state by seven points.
- Pennsylvania voters tended to say Mr. Biden was better suited to the job of president in various ways — though handling the economy was a notable exception. Forty-eight percent said Mr. Trump would be a better steward of the economy, compared with 44 percent who chose Mr. Biden.
Catch me up
Two weeks of back-to-back conventions are finally behind us, weeks during which the candidates tried to define themselves and their opponents. Mr. Biden, the Democratic nominee, pledged to heal a suffering nation by being an empathetic and decent man, while also managing to blow a hole in the Republican attack line that he was senile and could not string two sentences together.
President Trump, in a very long speech, did little to acknowledge the coronavirus pandemic, warning instead of what would become of the country’s economy and “greatness” if Mr. Biden were elected.
Now, the next big moments where voters will get the chance to compare and contrast the candidates will be in the debates, kicking off on Sept. 29.
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What the Republicans promised, and what they delivered
Republican officials involved in Mr. Trump’s convention planning promised to deliver a positive vision for the country, and a week’s worth of programming that would look like a “normal” convention to people watching from home, i.e. more live speeches, less reliance on videos, than the Democrats used.
- Journalism for every part of life.
They did, and didn’t. The positive vision for the country was possible only insofar as they mostly ignored the reality of the pandemic that has so far killed 180,000 Americans. Many speakers, like the president’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, referred to the virus in the past tense. And there was little acknowledgment from the marquee speakers of the distress that has swept the country in the wake of the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the more recent police shooting of Jacob Blake.
Several speakers told stories of hardship and pain and described Mr. Trump’s attempts to comfort or support them. But such remarks mixed with fear-mongering by others about what would happen if Mr. Biden were elected. “Joe Biden is not the savior of America’s soul — he is the destroyer of America’s jobs, and if given the chance, he will be the destroyer of American greatness,” Mr. Trump said. As for live speeches, almost the entire program was prerecorded inside the Mellon Auditorium, save for the headlining speeches each night that took place in front of live, mostly maskless audiences.
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White House officialsalso vouched for Mr. Trump’s empathy and kindness by telling voters, essentially, trust us, it’s there. And they all expressed the same “wishes.”
- “I wish you could be at his side with me to see his endless kindness to everyone he meets,” said Dan Scavino, the longest-serving White House aide.
- “I just wish everyone could see the deep empathy he shows the families whose loved ones were killed due to senseless violence,” said Ja’Ron Smith, the most senior Black official in the White House.
- “I want to tell you about the leader I know, and the moments I wish every American could see,” added Ivanka Trump, Mr. Trump’s elder daughter and a senior adviser to the president.
Republicans focused on Black outreach. Why?
The Republican convention featured its usual cast of Trumpian characters but also a particular focus on reaching Black Americans. Every night, in the lead-up to the keynote speaker, multiple supporters of the president spoke to his connection to Black people across the country, both personally and through policy. The clear microscope caused some confusion: Why were Republicans spending precious convention time targeting the most loyally Democratic voting demographic in the country?
The answer is twofold.
The Trump campaign believes it can make marginal inroads with Black voters, particularly Black men, and that will help them in critical swing states. Mr. Trump’s supporters are also very aware of the criticism that the president has used racist language. In that view, the R.N.C. sought to insulate the president from those concerns — creating a permission structure for the moderates who are skeptical of backing the president a second time.
But the party still struggles to find voices who have real political rapport within Black communities. Consider some of the speakers featured at the convention who spoke about race:
- Vernon Jones: A Democratic state lawmaker in Georgia who was embroiled in scandal, including allegations of sexual misconduct, and has endorsed Mr. Trump’s re-election. .
- Jack Brewer: A former N.F.L. player who is facing charges of insider trading.
- Herschel Walker: The former football star and friend of the president.
The Trump playbook is becoming clear (for now). Does Biden respond?
The Trump campaign has struggled to settle on a consistent message to target Mr. Biden and his running mate, Senator Kamala Harris of California. At times they portray Mr. Biden as soft on crime (anti-law enforcement), at other times he’s tough on crime (’90s crime bill), and the same scattershot approach goes for issues including immigration, trade and foreign policy.
At the convention, however, Republicans made the case that Mr. Biden would be a gateway to more radical fringes of the Democratic left, and that his domestic policy would make Americans unsafe. They repeatedly tied him to positions such as defunding the police, which Mr. Biden does not support. They repeatedly said he had not condemned the acts of destruction by some protesters, which is also not true.
Even so, the convention was four days of prime-time television that made the case to millions, leaving Mr. Biden with several options on how to respond.
- Stay the course, trust voters: Mr. Biden enjoys an edge in polling nationally and in most swing states. He has been helped by his familiarity with voters, who do not see him as the radical leftist Mr. Trump describes. He could bet on this familiarity through November, rebutting Mr. Trump in interviews and planned speeches but not going out of his way.
- Counterprogramming: Another option would be to run television or digital advertisements that make clear Mr. Biden’s position on defunding the police and the current protests about racial equality, to rebut Mr. Trump’s false characterizations of his positions. This would be a more forceful position than the current one, but could also cause some blowback among progressives who would read these actions as creating distance from the left.
- Go on the offensive: This would be an attempt to beat Mr. Trump at his own game. In a recent interview, Mr. Biden alluded to the fact that while he does not want to cut funding for police departments, his opponent does. Will that be a new line of attack? In the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Biden cast himself as the pro-law enforcement Democrat, who had good relationships with police unions and legislated in their interest. Does that make a comeback?
What you might have missed
- In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a Republican stronghold, cracks have started to emerge in the pro-Trump wall. But the Upper Peninsula has broken with the state before. In 1988 they voted for Mike Dukakis and for Bill Clinton in 1992. They also voted for Barack Obama in 2008.
- In one of Mr. Trump’s few outreach efforts to the L.G.B.T.Q. community, the president initiated a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality. There’s no evidence that Mr. Trump’s campaign has had any impact, or that it has been substantially different than what Mr. Obama had attempted.
Isabella Grullón Paz and Giovanni Russonello contributed reporting.
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Updated Aug. 29, 2020
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