My now-deceased father-in-law was a legendary political organizer in the Detroit area. Back when Michigan’s Democratic governor was mulling a run for the presidency, he brought a relatively unknown Senator from Massachusetts to town, John F. Kennedy, helping end the son of Michigan’s hopes for national office. For years he headed the Democratic organization in Detroit when Detroit was one of America’s leading cities, and dozens of politicians owed their careers to him.
Bert had many colorful sayings. One of his favorites was “there’s not a virgin in the crowd.” He would make that comment when a politician he was working for wanted to attend some political event filled with activists. He was urging the politician to do something else, go to an event with people who hadn’t yet decided who they would support. A politician running for office needs to meet with undecided voters to gain their support. Meeting with voters who have already decided who they are supporting might be easier, but it will not win an election.
Most of the recent coverage of the coronavirus crisis has emphasized the President’s inept, tone-deaf, and delusional response. Just today, David Leonhardt of the New York Times wrote a column detailing Trump’s desperate attempts to play down the coronavirus. Unfortunately for him, viruses do not respond to Twitter.
Trump’s supporters, and Trump himself, argue that he can’t be blamed for the rapid spread of a viral infection. Where that argument falls apart, however, is when you consider the unavailability of coronavirus tests. This virus cannot be detected by a standard flu test. As a result, special tests need to be distributed. Trump’s efforts to downplay the crisis resulted in the rest of the world getting tests while we have none. You almost wouldn’t think we are the richest, most powerful nation in the world.
Trump’s effort to pretend there is “nothing to see here” only highlights his reckless dismantling of our infection response infrastructure. He fired the National Security Council’s respected head of pandemic response, Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer. Ziemer had been praised by members of both parties for his work on preventing malaria. But now he’s gone, and nobody was hired to replace him.
At the same time, Trump has repeatedly proposed cuts to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In fact, even as it was becoming evident that coronavirus was becoming a pandemic, Trump’s acting budget director told Congress that the administration still supported drastic cuts to the organization tasked with coronavirus response. It makes you wonder what they are thinking.
My guess is that Trump thinks the virus does not affect the rich. In a way, he’s got a point. The wealthy have the ability to take time off from work without facing crippling financial hardship. The poor, without power in the workplace that unions could provide them, can get fired if they get sick. Lack of health insurance and ruinous medical bills will prevent the poor from getting medical help, even if we make the tests themselves free. Indeed, some of America’s wealthiest have left the cities to hole themselves up in their country estates. That option is not available to most of us.
You might think given the administration’s inept response that there would be universal outcry against his leadership. Surprisingly, that is not the case. According to a recent poll, voters overall disapprove of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus crisis by a margin of 49 to 43 percent. What’s shocking is when these results are broken down by partisan affiliation. Among Democrats, 83 percent disapprove of Trump’s handling of the crisis. Among Republicans, 87 percent APPROVE. So at this point, we view everything through the lens of partisanship.
Most significant, however, is how independent voters view Trump’s response. By a margin of 50 to 37 percent, independent voters disapprove. If the response to the virus is being viewed through the lens of whether you support Trump or not, that means independent voters don’t think much of his leadership.
You can see evidence of this problem in other questions in the poll. On foreign policy, 90 percent of Republicans approve of Trump’s handling of it, while 97 percent of Democrats disapprove. Among independents, they disapprove by a margin of 58 to 33 percent.
On the economy, 74 percent of Republicans think a recession in the next year is unlikely, while 82 percent of Democrats think it is likely. Among independents, 65 percent think it is likely.
The point of all this is that even independents are making up their minds about the general election already. Journalists have written much about how Democrats and Republicans view the world differently. What has not been written about so much, however, is that among independents, views of Trump seem to be hardening, and they are hardening against him.
Research in political science has demonstrated that general election campaigns do little to change voters’ minds. If that is the case, then Trump is running out of undecided voters who can swing the election his way. As my father-in-law might have said, there just aren’t that many political virgins left in America anymore. Given how disliked he is, that spells trouble for Trump.