Release Date: October 9, 2020
BUFFALO, N.Y. – President Donald Trump was already facing a difficult re-election before announcing last week he tested positive for COVID-19. Most national polls had him trailing Democrat Joe Biden, especially in several battleground states. The president’s first debate with Biden didn’t create much movement in the polls – it maybe even cost the incumbent votes. Same with Trump’s stay and subsequent departure from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
With under a month until Election Day, can Trump and Republican Party reverse this trend? Can Trump appeal to the slim group of undecided voters?
Antoine Yoshinaka, associate professor of political science in the University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences, offers his thoughts on what it might take for a Republican comeback.
Tough road back to The White House
“It seems that Trump’s numbers have worsened over the last week or so, since the debate and his bout with COVID-19. It is becoming increasingly difficult to move the needle in his direction. And it seems that more and more Republicans are worried about the repercussions at the congressional level. The Senate, especially, is becoming the battleground and several Republican incumbents are lagging in the polls. There is certainly enough time left for Republicans and Trump to turn this campaign around, but it would take a significant shift in voting intentions, which is even harder to achieve in an election in which most voters seem to have made up their mind already and where voting has already started in many states,” Yoshinaka says.
Can the GOP win over the remaining undecided voters?
“We can point to a few things – the state of the economy that seems to have rebounded better than anticipated, or the upcoming confirmation hearings of Amy Coney Barrett that have the potential to rally conservatives – that could help Republicans. It looks like Trump will point to his recovery as a reason to support him – with the argument being that he’s shown how one can beat the virus via good health care and access to therapeutics. It doesn’t seem to be a winning strategy, but it’s certainly worth a shot. His opponents will point out that regular Americans don’t have anywhere near the level of care that the president has access to,” Yoshinaka says.
With a short time frame, Trump can’t do it alone
“I’m not inclined to say that anything is a ‘death blow’ at this stage. There are still four weeks left before Election Day, and that’s plenty of time for more bombshells that could shake up the campaign. And, let’s not forget that there will be so much post-election litigation that we can’t predict with any certainty how it will play out in the end,” Yoshinaka says.
“I don’t think there’s much Trump can do by himself: a good speech or a good debate performance won’t be enough to move the needle significantly in his direction. But one can imagine many hypothetical scenarios that could shake up the campaign. What if Harris and Biden make a number of gaffes? What if the U.S. gets involved in an armed conflict abroad? What if the nation’s adversaries try to take advantage of the current unstable situation, which then leads to a “rally around the flag” effect that benefits the president? The proverbial ‘October surprise’ could still be revealed to the electorate in the next four weeks,” Yoshinaka says.
Too little, too late
“Having said all this, it’s certainly looking bleak for the president and for Republicans up and down the ballot. Absent some major reversal of fortunes or post-election shenanigans, I expect Democrats to have a massive victory up and down the ballot,” Yoshinaka says.