Trump Is Bad at Politics

Donald Trump
Fakest smile ever!

Before I get to it, here’s the disclaimer: Trump may still win re-election. But I stand by everything that I write below.

Even after Trump won the presidency in 2016, I think most people understood that he simply got lucky. It wasn’t brilliant strategy and tactics that brought that result to light. It was only later that a narrative started indicating that it wasn’t dumb luck.

How could it be that?! The reporters of the nation weren’t bested by random chance. All that reporting on “Hillary’s emails!” was wrong only because they were defeated by the brilliance of Trump Inc!

The first article about this nonsense, that I saw, was at Forbes, How Jared Kushner Won Trump the White House. Have you heard?! They had computers and analysts to determine where Trump should campaign! That was unheard of! In 1952.

But here we are in 2020. And it’s not like people are saying that Trump is good at the whole politics thing. But there is a subtext that maybe there’s a method to his madness.

There isn’t. Trump is very clearly losing. And his response is to flail around and make things worse.

Trump’s Bad by the Numbers

Let’s start with the numbers. Remember that in 2016, the polls were by and large not wrong. Some of the state polling was weak. But the biggest issue is that the undecided voters broke heavily for Trump.

This is not surprising. People who are undecided late in an election are low-information voters. They vote with their guts. As Rob says in High Fidelity, “I’ve been listening to my gut since I was 14 years old, and frankly speaking, I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have shit for brains.”

I do not think this will happen in 2020. But the truth is that it doesn’t matter. Biden is consistently polling over 50 percent nationally. And in the states, he is near to that or over it. Here are the critical states that Clinton lost:

StateBiden (Undecided)Biden Lower Bound
Michigan49.8% (7.6)52.3%
Pennsylvania50.2% (6.1)52.2%
Wisconsin49.9%(6.5)52.1%

In 2016, Trump got about two-thirds of the undecided voters. So if Biden does only as well as Clinton did with undecided voters, he wins these states handily. If he does this nationally, he will get 53.7 percent of the vote — almost a percentage point more than Obama got in 2008 against McCain.

Trump’s Bad Over Time

Trump has had ups and downs since the short peak he had in mid-March when Americans (typically but bizarrely) gave him a boost because of the pandemic he was doing such a bad job on. But since then, it’s mostly been downhill.

What’s remarkable is that the mainstream media would have been falling all over themselves to crown him Greatest Leader Ever had he done even the most basic job fighting this pandemic. But Trump couldn’t do it. He just denied there was a problem, I guess figuring he could bluff his way to re-election.

The real problem is that no one believes Trump’s bullshit like Trump himself. Part of the reason there is a narrative that Trump is a political genius is because Trump pushes it. And by that theory, Trump saying stupid and vile things was not an error. It was what made him president! (Never mind that he lost the popular vote by 3 million votes.)

Trump’s Bad by the Focus Group

But to get the ultimate indication of just how bad Trump is doing, listen to Our Man of the Focus Group, Frank “Say ‘Democrat’ because it sounds like ‘rat'” Luntz:

But sure: Trump might win re-election. It might be that all the crazy and stupid stuff he’s doing is what allows him to win. But Trump isn’t doing that because he thinks it will work. He’s doing it because it’s the only thing he can do.

He isn’t good at this. We have a lot of people in the US who will vote for any man who beats his chest enough. And I expect that the next demagogue who comes along will be good at politics. But Trump is not.

Trump image cropped from Donald Trump Official White House Portrait by Shealah Craighead in the public domain.