Daniel DePetris

Trump won’t admit it, but he’s in trouble

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President Donald Trump and former vice president Joe Biden were supposed to debate in front of the American public last night. The debate, however, was called off after Trump refused to do it via video link. So instead, Americans were treated to two different town-halls on two different U.S. television networks. While Trump was talking about conspiracy theories on NBC, Biden was talking policy on ABC. The former was part-absurd, part-therapy session. The latter was boring and frankly what you would think a typical presidential town-hall would look like.

Trump won’t admit it, but he’s in trouble. As the coronavirus count gets higher, his poll numbers are getting lower and his electoral possibilities are getting grimmer. Prior to his appearance last night, NPR News released its latest survey which showed an 11-point lead nationally for Biden. More worrying for Trump’s campaign team: the poll had Biden up by four points with white voters, a constituency Trump won by 20 points in 2016. 

Covid-19, the same disease that put the president in the hospital, remains a heavy anchor around his neck. 59,713 Americans were infected by the coronavirus on 14 October, the highest in two months. An average of 718 Americans have died from the virus over the last week. None of this is good for Trump, no matter how much he tries to spin it.

The NBC town-hall was a small chance for the president to shift the conversation onto a topic other than the pandemic. Trump’s advisers have wanted him to focus on how he is uniquely capable of rebuilding the U.S. economy for the second time in four years. Those advisers were disappointed last night, as the president got sucked into talking about QAnon, conspiracy theories, and why he stubbornly refuses to wear a mask during public events. The entire interview was less about making the case for a second term than it was an opportunity to spend an hour griping about how unfair the mainstream press is, how unfair the Democrats are, and how unfair the Obama administration was for 'spying' on his first campaign. The closest Trump came to delivering a positive pitch for himself was during the last 30 seconds of the town-hall, when he simply said Americans should vote for him 'because I’ve done a great job'. Other than that, Trump was all over the place with his grievances, like Seinfeld's Frank Costanza on Festivus.

Trump loves all the power of being president but none of the responsibility. That came out quite clearly during his appearance. Asked about why the 10-month Covid-19 epidemic has dragged the country into the sewer, he blamed China. Asked why deaths per capita in the U.S. have been so high compared to other countries, he excused himself by pointing to the virus surge in Europe. Asked why Washington hasn't yet passed another economic relief bill, he cited obstructionism from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who Trump claimed hated the American worker. It’s always somebody else’s fault.

Of course, Americans have gotten used to this ducking and weaving ever since his first campaign four years ago. New Yorkers have seen this quality from Trump for decades. Never apologise. Boast about your supposed accomplishments. Distract the media with shiny objects. And don’t regret anything, ever, at anytime.

If the polls are any guide, however, the schtick is starting to grate on the American electorate.