National columnist

President struggling in plain sight; GOP can do little about it

Jules Witcover, syndicated columnist

WASHINGTON — As President Donald Trump plunges downward in the polls, The Washington Post headlined a recent story thus: “Many see Trump as the core cause of his campaign’s woes.” The sub-head added: “Fears grow in GOP that president’s behavior is electoral burden to party.”

Such observations are like asking whether the pope is Catholic. By now it is crystal clear that this president is a flapping fish out of water, totally incompetent for the critical office he has held for more than three years. At the same time, fate has delivered him an opponent in November who is a seasoned national politician. In Joe Biden, Trump will face a man whose well-established decency and empathy for the average guy is a mirror image of the self-absorbed narcissist-in-chief.

For voters to whom such an obvious distinction matters, the decision in November should be a no-brainer. The intruding question about the approaching presidential election now is not so much who will win or lose. Rather, it is whether Trump will accept the outcome or have to be physically escorted from the White House.

With the election still more than three months away, there is plenty of time for unforeseen circumstances to intervene or for the president to change his ways. But that notion seems a longshot, given his record in office of flying by the seat of his pants. Virtually all polls send the same general message: Trump’s prediction that the COVID-19 pandemic will magically disappear, allowing his dangerous rush to reopen the economy and now the schools, is pure folly. American voters seem to be saying they have had enough of our irresponsible president.

Nearly every new breaking story touching on Trump’s executive power is being weighed in light of that growing assessment. To wit: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is rushed to a hospital with word that her cancer has returned. Although she reports she expects to continue her duties on the Supreme Court, could Trump be presented with another vacancy to fill before the November election?

The latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll finds that 60 percent of adults surveyed now disapprove of Trump’s handling of the epidemic, up from 51 percent in the last four months. Among voters who intend to vote for Biden, 67 percent say their main incentive is to defeat Trump, in what they see primarily as a referendum on him.

On the issue of wearing masks, the survey reported that nearly 80 percent of respondents — including 54 percent of Republicans — said they now wear a mask most or all the time they are in proximity of others. Trump meanwhile has been seen in public wearing one only once, in going to Walter Reed Hospital on a visit to patients.

Seldom has an incumbent president seeking reelection experienced so rapid a perceived decline in public support since Republican Herbert Hoover lost in 1932 amid the Great Depression. Yet most of the Grand Old Party faithful, including members of Congress, are still unwilling to jump the Trump ship in the current stormy political seas. As a result, predictions multiply that the Republicans will lose their Senate majority and additional seats in House this fall.

While it often is said that self-preservation is the first objective of all politicians, their steadfastness is a tribute of sorts to Trump’s Pied Piper magic, which has kept the congressional faithful from going over the side for so long.

Years ago, when Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie of Maine was facing a similarly rapid erosion of support, one prominent fellow Democrat suddenly endorsed him, whereupon a wit in the press corps proclaimed it to be the first known example of a rat jumping aboard a sinking ship.

Only four years ago, however, Donald Trump was also being widely dismissed as a certain loser before the returns started coming in. Indeed, he lost the popular vote by nearly three million ballots to Hillary Clinton, but he carried the electoral college and the Oval Office with it.

This time around, the Democrats are forewarned, and they are targeting battleground states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania that Trump captured from under their noses in 2016 and sealed his electoral vote victory.

For all the early Democratic gloating over the current polling, the memory of 2016 hangs over any premature celebrating.

But as the president pivots to a bitterly personal assault on Biden, inviting voter comparisons of their respective characters and likeability, Trump could easily find himself on the short end of the equation, despite his boast of being a classic counter-puncher.

Tough guys like him often like to say that nice guys finish last. The November election may well put that notion to the test.

Editor’s note: You can respond to this column at juleswitcovercomcast.net.


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