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Written for America Unfiltered, the joint project of EA WorldView and The Clinton Institute, University College Dublin:

Trump’s narrative strategy may be in disarray, but his strategy for voter suppression is not. His polling numbers may be abysmal, but he is counting on the power — and abuse of power — of Presidential authority. The spectre is of the most divisive, brutal, and definitive election in US history.

The chaos of the last few weeks and months in the US has changed the nature of the 2020 Presidential campaign. The Trump Administration’s failure to control the Covid-19 crisis, the subsequent economic fallout, and the widespread protests for racial equality have all had a profound impact on the polls.

FiveThirtyEight’s aggregate national data gives Joe Biden an 8% lead. Polling data from battleground states like Wisconsin and Michigan, vital to Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, mirror this national trend. Both candidates are neck and neck in Texas, a typically Republican state that has not been carried by a Democrat since Jimmy Carter in 1976. A Biden landslide is by no means a given, but the path to re-election is looking difficult for Trump.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the Trump campaign’s most promising strategy was highlighting the economy to win over voters. But Coronavirus highlighted the Administration’s lack of competence or willingness to handle such a crisis while also sending the economy into a deep downward spiral. Trust in Trump’s ability to deal with the pandemic, which has now killed almost 150,000 Americans, is down to 38%.

How can Trump’s campaign regain the initiative?

Culture War

The campaign, as in 2016, has stoked tensions with divisive rhetoric on issues such as racial inequality and by deepening the divisions between left and right. Trump’s remarks at Mount Rushmore for the July 4th weekend set the tone: “Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders, deface our most sacred memorials, and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities.”

See EA on Al Jazeera English: Trump’s “Dog-Whistle Politics” v. Biden’s “Leadership”
EA on BBC: Coronavirus — Fauci and Lives v. Trump and Disinformation

The systemic racism that led to George Floyd’s murder has spurred Black Lives Matter marches, but the Trump campaign that race at the forefront of the national debate may invigorate his base. The election becomes a referendum on race, rather than a referendum on the Administration.

The race narrative also could have distracted from the Covid-19 death toll. But the scale of the pandemic, including the racial dimension with far more deaths among people of color per capita than among whites, has prevailed. Trump might lament the tearing down of Confederate monuments, but the national conversation is elsewhere.

So the July 4th remarks, written by hardline anti-immigration advisor Stephen Miller, only highlighted the campaign’s lack of a cohesive message and its ability to take command of the situation.

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