Trump is in dire straits — and we shouldn’t pretend otherwise

A political scientist explains how the media is making a big mistake about Trump’s chances in 2020

Published April 22, 2020 4:59AM (EDT)

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before departing on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019, in Washington.  (AP/Alex Brandon)
President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before departing on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House, Wednesday, Aug. 21, 2019, in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

Between now and November, President Donald Trump's reelection campaign will no come up with many different ways to attack his Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden. But how effective the lines of attack will be remains to be seen. And Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, argued that many are in denial about Trump's standing in the 2020 election.

Some mainstream media coverage of the campaign, Drezner writes in a Washington Post op-ed, is — in an effort to be fair to Trump — downplaying some of the problems his campaign is facing during the coronavirus pandemic.

"My personal favorite is this headline on an Associated Press story: 'Coronavirus could Complicate Trump's Path to Reelection,'" Drezner asserts. "I know the AP is as strait-laced as possible in its coverage, and to be fair, the story is straight-forward in describing Trump's challenges come November. Still, this is equivalent to a headline on December 8, 1941, saying: 'Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor Could Complicate America First's Desire for Isolationism.'"

In other words, Trump is in dire straits, and we shouldn't pretend otherwise.

Mainstream media reports that go out of their way to give Trump's campaign the benefit of the doubt, according to Drezner, "contain an air of unreality about them." The Tufts professor explains, "They assume that the Trump campaign's gambits can somehow alter the trajectory of the general election campaign."

Drezner notes that over the weekend, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post all published articles "covering the Trump campaign's belief that it can attack Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, as being soft on China."  But he goes on to assert that during a deadly pandemic, such attacks miss the mark badly.

"Biden's tactical response is not the important thing…. The important thing is that campaign tactics are meaningless when the administration has bungled its pandemic response and the economy is cratering," Drezner explained. "Trump is starting the fourth quarter of the campaign behind and with a lousy field position. Biden is beating him in the polls. Democrats have united behind their candidate. Trump cannot campaign on the economy. Attacking Biden on China is like trying to bail out the Titanic with a toy bucket."

Drezner noted that even given the dismal conditions Trump is facing for his re-election, victory isn't impossible. It's just much harder for him to pull off than most observers in the press seem to think.

"Trump's surprise victory in 2016 has caused political analysts to focus on the ways he can survive this debacle. And there is a chance that he can," Drezner writes. "In the past century, only three presidents have run for reelection and lost. But the fact remains that Trump lost the popular vote and barely eked out an electoral college victory in 2016. November's election will be a referendum on his presidency, and the country will be worse off in every possible way compared with four years ago.

By Alex Henderson

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Daniel W. Drezner Elections 2020 Media Donald Trump Coronavirus Covid-19