News & Politics

Time for Democrats to Panic

Trump's approval rating has reached a high not seen in 1,108 days.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

For the eighth consecutive day, Donald Trump’s presidential approval rating has ticked up, according to the polling average at FiveThirtyEight. It’s the culmination of a broader uptick that has lasted more than two weeks.

But today, Trump hit another milestone. Trump’s disapproval figures are below fifty percent for the first time since March, 2017. The last time that figure was so good for Trump, it was 1,108 days ago—on Day 55 of the Trump Presidency, when Republicans were pushing to abolish the Affordable Care Act and Trump was accusing Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower.

What caused Trump’s numbers to cross this threshold? Presumably, the boost came from a new poll by ABC/Washington Post, considered by some the gold standard of national polling. (FiveThirtyEight ranks it an “A+” poll.)

The ABC/Post poll finds that Trump has a net positive approval rating, 48 percent to 46 percent. That’s the highest approval number that the poll has recorded since it began keeping tabs on Trump’s ratings in April, 2017.

Read that again. The country’s leading pollster has found Trump’s national approval rating is at a record high. This, while the White House has all but manufactured a humanitarian crisis in the United States, lying at every stage, ignoring foghorn warnings, and neglecting our front-line defenses, except when it’s to fire them. Heroic doctors are dying because they’re forced to wear trash-bags in hospitals. As a result, Americans are dying in increasing numbers, and millions are pent up in their homes like domesticated animals.

Can you imagine what Fox News would be saying about President Hillary Clinton right now? For context, right-wing media pilloried President Obama’s ur-competent management of the Ebola “crisis” by heralding the apocalypse, foretelling an end to the American way of life as we know it. (The grand total number of Americans who were infected? Three.) In fact, so thoroughly did conservatives politicize the virus outbreak that later studies showed it helped Republicans win the Senate.

But if Hillary Clinton were in the White House today, there’s no question what would be playing on Fox News: Accusations of murder, interviews with college students who missed graduation, and a constant stream of dead grandparents on the nightly news like a nonstop In Memoriam segment at the Oscars.

Anger, in other words, is the emotion of the hour—and Democrats just can’t seem to muster it. There’s no apparent coordination on their message at all. Not only are top Democrats hesitating to indict Trump’s catastrophic handling of the crisis, they’re going out of their way to agree with him: A Tweet today by John Kerry called out a no-name Congressman for being an “asshole.” Clearly, it’s not hard for Democrats to fire off tough rhetoric. They just can’t seem to fire at the right culprit.

This is an obvious role for Joe Biden to fill. The party is already worried about Biden’s anemic response to the coronavirus. But it’s not entirely the campaign’s fault. There’s only so much you can do when the President is seen every day giving live television briefings—no matter how absurd or misleading they are—while his credible opponent is relegated to a basement, giving soft-spoken homilies to his viewers like an even-more-geriatric Mr. Rogers.

But absent a raw, powerful indictment—one that paints this catastrophe as the political, man-made failure that it is—Americans will start to see coronavirus less like Hurricane Katrina, and more like 9/11. Trump’s improving poll numbers suggest that without a strong Democratic counter-message, Americans are beginning to think that our predicament is an act of God—and perhaps Trump should be forgiven for it.

Biden can’t let that happen, not if he wants to win. The 2020 election was just yesterday a referendum on impeachment. Now it’s a referendum on coronavirus. In recent days, party Democrats and Biden supporters I’ve spoken with have conceded some concern. But they say that it’s “too soon” to begin hammering Trump on the crisis.

That’s wrong. If the message is going to get through to the Biden campaign, the time for Democrats to panic is now—right now.

Benjamin Wofford
Staff Writer

Benjamin Wofford is a contributing editor at Washingtonian.