Is Trump's latest race-baiting a 2020 campaign strategy?
The latest evidence shows up in a new study by Navigator Research, a message development firm for progressives, as reported Friday by Ron Brownstein, a senior editor at The Atlantic. Briefly, the study indicates it will not be enough for Trump to run on his success at keeping alive the robust economy that began under President Barack Obama. He needs something more to put him over the top, and the most effective route takes him back to the race card.
The problem for Trump, the study shows, is the shortfall between high voter approval of his performance on the economy and much lower approval on everything else.
About half or more of voters give Trump positive marks for the economy in the Navigator Study, but only 40% to 45% give positive marks on his overall performance. The positive views are "strongly held back" by concerns over their own values, the views on other noneconomic issues and "some very real concerns about Trump's character and temperament."
Brownstein observes that since the vast majority of voters have pretty much made up their minds, the "conflicted" group that approves of his economic performance but still disapproves of his overall job performance accounts for 16% to 19% of the electorate, according to polls since April by CNN, Quinnipiac University and ABC/The Washington Post.
Compared with the approval ratings of George W. Bush and Obama, Trump's economic approval ratings are running 16 to 20 points lower, the ABC/Post poll found.
For example, CNN and ABC/Post found Joe Biden winning almost a fifth of voters who say they approve of Trump's economic performance, a much high level of defection than Bush or Obama suffered among the economically satisfied, Brownstein noted.
Bottom line: Trump may have to continue on the divisive path, which appears to be his inclination.
It may be too late for him to turn to the more conventional path of Ronald Reagan's "Are you better off now than four years ago?" He fights over American culture and identity instead of the economy, Brownstein concludes, "not only because he likes to, but also because, by this point, he must."
Judging by Trump's past performance, Brownstein is probably right. In response to the president's inevitable race-baiting, gender-baiting and other xenophobic moves, Democrats are probably best advised to avoid taking the bait.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi's recommended focus on health care and other bread-and-butter issues paid off for the Dems in the midterm elections. It looks like their best path to victory now, perhaps along with a new slogan, "Send Trump back" -- to New York.
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