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Bill Straub: Despite terrific failures, Trump’s possible re-election cannot really be underestimated

To quote the late, great Marvin Gaye, “What’s going on?”

Before us is the president of the United States, one Donald J. Trump, aka President Extremely Stable Genius, aka President Great and Unmatched Wisdom, who has established, with no fear of contradiction, that he is not up to the task of running this great country intellectually, physically, temperamentally, emotionally, judgmentally or just about any other -ally you can bring to the table.

There’s really no debate.

Since the beginning of this year he has mishandled the COVID-19 crisis, the nation’s biggest challenge since 911, like Marv Throneberry kicking a ball around the infield dirt. For weeks he slept, insisted the problem would magically disappear and watched as the numbers climbed – 1,244,538 cases as of this writing, resulting in 72,876 deaths.

Now, with no end in sight and experts revising the anticipated number of deaths upward — the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington now places the estimate at 134,000 – Trump plots a premature turn toward normalcy, a relaxation of prohibitions on personal conduct and commerce, in a frantic bid to salvage his re-election chances this November.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com

His incompetence regarding COVID-19 is indictment enough. There’s no question the coronavirus was destined to kill a significant number of Americans no matter who was president during this tragic time. But Trump has made the situation incredibly worse, permitting it to fester through periods of inaction and then making useless and at times harmful suggestions on how to address it – like proposing that scientists consider injecting disinfectants into the bloodstream of those suffering from the bug to combat it.

Beyond this incredible display of blatant incompetence – the U.S. is outpacing the rest of the globe in both number of cases and deaths – Trump continues to handle his job as president like Professor Marvel. He is up until all hours of the night hurling schoolyard insults via Twitter at those who displease him. He openly lies about everything, seemingly as often as a normal adult might emit a breath. He spreads unfounded conspiracy theories through the populace, personally attacks members of the media – mostly women and people of color – and boasts about his limited and modest accomplishments as if he were Napoleon.

And the pity party he keeps throwing for himself is one of the most embarrassing events that has ever involved an American president. The boy whines like an infant, Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms, over the treatment accorded him in the press and elsewhere, comparing his lot to the martyred Lincoln.

“They always said, ‘Lincoln, nobody got treated worse than Lincoln,’” Trump said recently. “I believe I am treated worse.”

Poor baby. Kootchy-kootchy-koo.

It was Lincoln in his second inaugural, you may remember, as the Civil War was nearing an end, who promised a reunified nation “with malice toward none, with charity for all.” Trump, of course, was offering a similar message when he said, “I moved on her like a bitch. But I couldn’t get there. And she was married. Then all of a sudden I see her, she’s now got the big phony tits and everything.”

You constantly feel the need to take a shower every time you talk about this man.
Now, none of this is new. The evidence of Trump’s spectacular failure has been obvious almost from the moment he assumed office. As Hawthorne would say it’s a twice-told tale.

But there is some evidence, despite all this, that Trump’s popularity is once again touching respectable levels. Gallup, the nation’s most widely known and cited poll, recently issued the results of a two-week survey showing that 49 percent approve of the president’s performance while 47 percent disapprove – a high watermark for his almost three and a half years in office. The 49 percent represents a six-point jump over a poll in early April.

Reuters-Ipsos, another respected poll, showed a more modest two-point jump in Trump’s popularity to 45 percent but it also showed a tightening in the presidential race, with Trump now trailing the Democrat, former Vice President Joe Biden, by only two points. It had been five points in early April. An Investors Business Daily survey has the race tied 43-43.

Now, given all the water that has flowed under the bridge one might have a good reason to wonder why anyone would want one Donald J. Trump anywhere near the vicinity of the 202 area code. Mar-a-Lago would seem much too close for comfort, raising the question initially posed by Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On?

Other polls provide a dimmer picture for the president, perhaps something painted by Edvard Munch. Monmouth, for instance, has Trump’s job approval at 44 percent and shows Biden with a 50-41 advantage seven months before the showdown. So it’s certainly possible Gallup is an outlier but it should also raise the political antennae, especially coming off a series of bad weeks that ordinarily would have tossed the president’s popularity into the sewer.

Trump, it seems, will always have a substantial base that vows to stick with him regardless of circumstances. Better than 90 percent of registered Republicans have pledged allegiance to this slob through thick-and-thin and it’ll take something more powerful than a hydrogen bomb to separate them. He also picks up a substantial number of independents along the way who consider themselves conservative – those who apparently consider the Republican Party too liberal for their tastes.

To put it bluntly, much of Trump’s popularity, if that’s what you want to call it, comes from sitting atop what has become the white people’s party. Less than eight percent of registered Republicans are African-American. Less than 30 percent of Latinos and Asians stand with the GOP.

A mind-blowing percentage of Trump supporters are white. That group represents a fading demographic number – white folks are expected to become a majority-minority sometime in the 2040s. But, at this point, they still represent about two-thirds of the registered voters. As a group, they generally approve of Trump initiatives to close the border with Mexico and limit visitors from Muslim countries. Throw in lower taxes under the mistaken assumption that most benefits accrue to minorities and adopt a tough law-and-order line and you have a winner in the white population race.

It also explains why Republican state legislatures are constantly trying to reduce voter participation since most ballot access problems can be found in African-American communities. It’s a cynical but often effective ploy for retaining power.

And remember this, one of the great, unknown statistics: the last time a Democratic presidential candidate carried a majority of the white vote was 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson defeated Republican Sen. Barry Goldwater. That was 56 years ago, folks. And be mindful, despite the horrid, misogynistic things Trump spewed during the 2016 and despite the fact that he was running against history’s first female presidential candidate from a major party in Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump still managed to claim 53 percent of the white woman vote.

With numbers like that, despite running an administration that is genuinely placing the population in grave danger, it would be a huge mistake to write off the re-election hopes of one Donald J. Trump as a fantasy.

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