Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, The Trump Referendum: He still has no second term message beyond his own grievances:
President Trump may soon need a new nickname for “Sleepy Joe” Biden. How does President-elect sound? On present trend that’s exactly what Mr. Biden will be on Nov. 4, as Mr. Trump heads for what could be an historic repudiation that would take the Republican Senate down with him.
Mr. Trump refuses to acknowledge what every poll now says is true: His approval rating has fallen to the 40% or below that is George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter territory. They’re the last two Presidents to be denied a second term. This isn’t 2017 when Mr. Trump reached similar depths after failing to repeal ObamaCare while blaming Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan. He regained support with tax reform and a buoyant economy that really was lifting all incomes.
Now the election is four months away, voters know him very well, and Mr. Trump has reverted to his worst form. His record fighting the coronavirus is better than his critics claim after a bad start in late February and March. He mobilized federal resources to help hard-hit states, especially New York.
But he wasted his chance to show leadership by turning his daily pandemic pressers into brawls with the bear-baiting press and any politician who didn’t praise him to the skies. Lately he has all but given up even talking about the pandemic when he might offer realism and hope about the road ahead even as the country reopens. His default now is defensive self-congratulation.
The country also wants firm but empathetic leadership after the death of George Floyd, but Mr. Trump offers combative tweets that inflame. Not long ago Mr. Trump tweeted that a 75-year old man who was pushed by police in Buffalo might be an antifa activist. He offered no evidence.
Americans don’t like racial enmity and they want their President to reduce it. Mr. Trump has preached racial harmony on occasion, but he gives it all back with riffs that misjudge the national moment. His “law and order” message might resonate if disorder and rioting continue through the summer, but only if Mr. Trump is also talking about racial reconciliation and opportunity for all.
Mr. Trump has little time to recover. The President’s advisers say that he trailed Hillary Clinton by this much at this point in 2016, that they haven’t had a chance to define Mr. Biden, and that as the election nears voters will understand the binary choice. Perhaps. But in 2016 Mrs. Clinton was as unpopular as Mr. Trump, while Mr. Biden is not.
Mr. Biden hasn’t even had to campaign to take a large lead. He rarely leaves his Delaware basement, he dodges most issues, and his only real message is that he’s not Donald Trump. He says he’s a uniter, not a divider. He wants racial peace and moderate police reform. He favors protests but opposes riots and violence.
Some Democrats are literally advising Mr. Biden to barely campaign at all. Eliminate the risk of a mental stumble that will raise doubts about his declining capacity that was obvious in the primaries. Let Mr. Trump remind voters each day why they don’t want four more years of tumult and narcissism.
Mr. Trump’s base of 35% or so will never leave, but the swing voters who stood by him for three and a half years have fallen away in the last two months. This includes suburban women, independents, and seniors who took a risk on him in 2016 as an outsider who would shake things up. Now millions of Americans are close to deciding that four more years are more risk than they can stand.
As of now Mr. Trump has no second-term agenda, or even a message beyond four more years of himself. His recent events in Tulsa and Arizona were dominated by personal grievances. He resorted to his familiar themes from 2016 like reducing immigration and denouncing the press, but he offered nothing for those who aren’t already persuaded.
Mr. Trump’s advisers have an agenda that would speak to opportunity for Americans of all races—school choice for K-12, vocational education as an alternative to college, expanded health-care choice, building on the opportunity zones in tax reform, and more. The one issue on which voters now give him an edge over Mr. Biden is the economy. An agenda to revive the economy after the pandemic, and restore the gains for workers of his first three years, would appeal to millions.
Perhaps Mr. Trump lacks the self-awareness and discipline to make this case. He may be so thrown off by his falling polls that he simply can’t do it. If that’s true he should understand that he is headed for a defeat that will reward all of those who schemed against him in 2016. Worse, he will have let down the 63 million Americans who sent him to the White House by losing, of all people, to “Sleepy Joe.”