With polls worsening, Donald Trump flails

Early Returns
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Perhaps I should be focused on the larger themes of Donald Trump's presidency, but today I just can't get over the little stuff.

Item:

The Secret Service reportedly told Trump to head down to a secure space in the White House on May 29 because protesters across the street were getting unruly. Seems to me he had several options:

  • Defy the Secret Service, stay put and then have it leaked out that he heroically stood his ground.
  • Go down to the bunker, and then when the press reports it just ignore the whole thing.
  • Go down to the bunker, and then use the incident to bash the protesters (whom the president is portraying as violent).
  • Or go down the bunker, make up something about doing an "inspection," fight it out with the media for a week and then be completely embarrassed when your attorney general lets out the truth.

Item:

Trump's had a lousy run of polls, capped off by a CNN survey released Monday showing him down 14 percentage points to former Vice President Joe Biden. Options included highlighting the best poll out there, ignoring the polls and focusing on governing, or at least claiming to be ignoring the polls and focused on governing. Instead, Trump had a pollster draft a risible memo accusing the other pollsters of being out to get him and tweeted it out, thus confirming reporting that he's obsessed with the polls, implying that similar reporting about bad internal polls is true, and drawing attention to the worst of all the recent public surveys. 

Item: 

Anti-Trump Republicans have been taking out attack ads on Washington TV during Trump's favorite cable news shows. Apparently the president is so upset about this that his own campaign has spent almost half a million dollars to counter-advertise on the same programs, mainly to cheer him up and convince him that his staffers are hard at work. Granted, presidential campaigns generally have more money than they know what to do with, so it's not as if swing-state advertising will suffer, but it's still an interesting comment about what the campaign professionals think of their candidate.

All of those are from Monday's news. I could easily go further. There's also Trump's continuing feud with Senator Mitt Romney, complete with more easily disproved statements. The president seems perfectly pleased to go forward without Romney or Senator Lisa Murkowski on his side. It's worth remembering that Trump won narrowly in 2016, and can't afford to lose any significant faction of Republicans.

There's also Trump's decision to begin his rallies again, regardless of best practices to control the coronavirus. Will it help him? He's been holding those rallies since early in his presidency and they don't appear to have done him much good, but he likes doing them and has no one around him to tell him otherwise.

And while the story about the attack on protesters has centered on Attorney General William Barr more than on Trump personally, Monday marked a week into increasingly dubious administration claims about the event, including semantic arguments about what counts as using tear gas and evidence-free accusations of protester violence. The Washington Post has probably now debunked those claims for good. Again, even given the original events, there was simply no reason for the White House to stretch out the bad publicity for a week. 

None of these items makes all that much difference on its own, but that's a lot of missteps, easily exposed falsehoods and wasted effort, all from one day's headlines. Have enough days like that and it adds up to a weak, unpopular president who seems to be flailing like no one since Jimmy Carter. We'll see what Tuesday brings. 

1. Michael Heaney at Mischiefs of Faction on protesters, violence and democracy.

2. Dan Drezner surveys some good news, or at least news that is sort of, maybe good

3. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Francis Wilkinson on monuments and culture wars.

4. And Margot Sanger-Katz, Claire Cain Miller and Quoctrung Bui on what epidemiologists are thinking.

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