The mask of Trump: is the US pres­i­dent los­ing his touch?

Core base of white vot­ers over 65 un­happy with his Covid-19 re­sponse

The Irish Times - - World News - Suzanne Lynch

Is Don­ald Trump los­ing his touch? Is his fa­bled abil­ity to read his base start­ing to fal­ter? On June 20th, the US pres­i­dent re­turned to the cam­paign trail, in what was sup­posed to be his come­back rally in Tulsa, Ok­la­homa.

After months of con­fine­ment due to coro­n­avirus, Trump’s Twit­ter feed was alight in the run-up to the event. Like a player lim­ber­ing up for a big game, his tweets por­trayed a man itch­ing for the adrenalin and val­i­da­tion of the cam­paign trail.

“Big crowds and lines al­ready form­ing in Tulsa,” he posted the day be­fore the rally, hav­ing boasted that al­most a mil­lion tick­ets had been re­quested. “Watch live: Trump Sup­port­ers de­scend on Tulsa on eve of rally,” he tweeted, di­rect­ing fol­low­ers to Bre­it­bart News, as he left for Ok­la­homa.

In­stead, Trump ad­dressed an arena that was only one-third full, while his team hastily aban­doned plans for him to ad­dress an over­flow area along with vice pres­i­dent Mike Pence.

The pic­ture of rows of empty seats may well be the defin­ing im­age of his re-elec­tion cam­paign, along with the pho­to­graph of Trump ar­riv­ing back to Wash­ing­ton later that night, his sig­na­ture red tie un­done, Maga hat in hand, the per­son­i­fi­ca­tion of de­feat.

While the at­ten­dance de­ba­cle was down in part to the high num­ber of Trump op­po­nents who had ap­plied for tick­ets with no in­ten­tion of at­tend­ing, in­clud­ing thou­sands of teenagers who heard about the boy­cott through the video-shar­ing site TikTok, the poor turnout may also have re­flected a more press­ing is­sue for the Trump cam­paign.

The fact that only 6,200 showed up to the 19,200-ca­pac­ity arena in a state that voted over­whelm­ingly for Trump in 2016 is con­cern­ing for his cam­paign.

In part, it re­flected the fact that the United States is in the midst of a ma­jor health pan­demic, and many of Trump’s older sup­port­ers stayed away. De­spite the pres­i­dent’s ef­forts to down­play the virus – this week he told Fox News that it will “sort of just dis­ap­pear” – the re­al­ity is that many of his core base are not aligned with him on the mat­ter.

Re­cent polls show that Trump’s ap­proval rat­ing for his han­dling of the coro­n­avirus cri­sis is at a low. The lat­est Reuters-Ip­sos poll shows that only 37 per cent of vot­ers ap­prove of his re­sponse.

This con­cern is par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant for white vot­ers over 65 – a group that over­whelm­ingly

‘‘ Un­for­tu­nately, this sim­ple life-sav­ing prac­tice has be­come part of a po­lit­i­cal de­bate that says: If you’re for Trump, you don’t wear a mask. If you’re against Trump, you do, said im­mu­nol­o­gist An­thony Fauci, urg­ing the pres­i­dent to wear one

backed Trump in 2016. A re­cent New York Times-Siena Col­lege poll found that older peo­ple in bat­tle­ground states dis­ap­proved of his han­dling of the pan­demic by a seven-point mar­gin.

Trump’s ri­val, Demo­crat Joe Bi­den, now has a six-point lead over Trump among se­nior vot­ers in bat­tle­ground states.

Repub­li­cans in Congress, who are in­creas­ingly con­cerned about the cur­rent polls, are be­gin­ning to take note.

Face mask

This week as Trump again re­jected calls to wear a face mask, se­nior Repub­li­cans on Capi­tol Hill be­gan to break ranks, tak­ing a more as­sertive ap­proach to mask wear­ing. “Wear a damn mask,” said Re­pub­li­can sen­a­tor Marco Ru­bio.

Ten­nessee Re­pub­li­can La­mar Alexan­der called out the pres­i­dent at a Se­nate hear­ing on Tues­day which was ad­dressed by im­mu­nol­o­gist An­thony Fauci. “Un­for­tu­nately, this sim­ple life-sav­ing prac­tice has be­come part of a po­lit­i­cal de­bate that says: If you’re for Trump, you don’t wear a mask. If you’re against Trump, you do,” he said, urg­ing the pres­i­dent to wear one.

Liz Cheney, daugh­ter of for­mer vice-pres­i­dent Dick Cheney, and the num­ber three Re­pub­li­can in the House, was among the most out­spo­ken on the is­sue. This week she tweeted a pic­ture of her fa­ther wear­ing a mask, with the hash­tag #real­men­wear­masks.

Cheney’s po­si­tion­ing is in­ter­est­ing. She has been in­creas­ingly crit­i­cal of Trump of late. This week she de­manded answers from the White House on re­ports that the pres­i­dent and vice-pres­i­dent were briefed on in­tel­li­gence claim­ing that Rus­sia of­fered Tal­iban-linked mili­tia money to kill Amer­i­can sol­diers.

That Cheney is seek­ing to dis­tance her­self from Trump could sig­nal her con­gres­sional lead­er­ship am­bi­tions, par­tic­u­larly if Trump loses in Novem­ber.

In the mean­time, as Repub­li­cans be­gin to break with Trump on the coro­n­avirus is­sue, it seems that the pres­i­dent is be­gin­ning to lis­ten. On Wed­nes­day he told Fox News that he is, in fact, “all for” masks, ob­serv­ing that they made him look like the Lone Ranger.

As the level of in­fec­tions in the US con­tin­ues to rise alarm­ingly, Trump’s be­lated ap­par­ent con­ver­sion to masks and his equiv­o­ca­tion about the threat of Covid-19 may be too lit­tle too late – both for the health of the US and for his re-elec­tion hopes.

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