WASHINGTON — President Trump’s poll numbers have never been worse, and Republicans are starting to panic that he could be headed to a historic wipeout that could drag the rest of the party down with him.
Trump has trailed former Vice President Joe Biden by almost 10 points in recent national polling. And Republicans privately admit things look just as bad at the local level. More than a half-dozen GOP strategists working on Senate and House races told VICE News that they’ve seen Trump’s numbers plunge in states and districts across the country. His standing with voters was already suffering from his botched coronavirus response — and his inflammatory reaction to national Black Lives Matter protests has pushed him even further down with key groups of voters.
“The environment really sucks for us right now. We’ve got a worldwide pandemic, the economy is slipping and now we have a race war tacked on,” warned one GOP strategist involved in multiple races. “If the election were held today, we’d be talking about a wipeout. We’d be in landslide territory.”
“If the election were held today, we’d be talking about a wipeout. We’d be in landslide territory.”
The president badly trails Biden in states and districts that went red in 2016 that he needs to win again in 2020. Trump is in alarmingly poor shape in a number of states that appeared well outside Democrats’ reach at the beginning of the election cycle. And his terrible numbers aren’t just hurting him: Republicans are increasingly concerned that he could cost them the Senate as well, handing Democrats unified control of Washington after the next election.
Trump and his campaign have publicly lambasted public polls — they’ve even threatened to sue CNN for a poll that found him trailing Biden by 14 points. But while GOP strategists said that number was likely a bit high, they privately say their own polling isn’t much better.
Biden’s lead in Michigan, a state Trump won in 2016, is edging into double-digit territory. Public polling shows Trump down in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, two other states he won last election. Biden holds a lead in Arizona, a state Trump won, that’s outside of polls’ margin of error. And Biden is slightly ahead in Florida and North Carolina, two states Trump won last time.
And other states where Trump won with big margins in 2016 are suddenly uncomfortably close. Republican strategists said Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, and even Texas are within the margin of error in recent surveys. Trump won Georgia by five percentage points, Ohio by eight, and Iowa and Texas by nine in 2016.
One GOP strategist involved in multiple congressional races said that a recent all-staff conference call to touch base on their own races filled them with growing alarm.
"I had a call this week with my entire team,” said the source, who was granted anonymity to honestly discuss their party’s current woes. “It became a 15-minute conversation. Literally every single race we’re involved in, we’re seeing Trump’s numbers dip. And most concerning is the slip with seniors."
That source said if the election were held today, it would be “devastating” for the GOP, who would lose not just the White House but the Senate and likely some House seats as well — even though most of the House map is being fought in districts Trump won that Democrats flipped in 2018. And they warned of a mirror-image result of the 1988 presidential election, when President George H.W. Bush won 40 states in an electoral romp.
“Trump has to get his shit together and his campaign has to get their shit together, or it’s going to be really problematic.”
“Trump has to get his shit together and his campaign has to get their shit together, or it’s going to be really problematic,” said the strategist. “It would be catastrophic."
Republicans say that Trump is getting blown out with independent voters and continues to drop with female voters, with white women who lack college degrees moving away from him. Some have also seen a concerning erosion with senior citizens as well as gen-X voters.
And Trump has even started to lose some support from his normally rock-solid GOP base. Two separate sources said recent private polls found Trump’s approval rating slipping into the low 80s with Republican voters — still a high figure but considerably lower than the 90-plus numbers he’s posted for most of his presidency.
4 months is eternity
There are still more than four months until the November elections, and the cataclysmic last few months show exactly how fast things can change in politics. Four months ago, Bernie Sanders appeared to be the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and the Senate had just voted against removing Trump from office in his impeachment trial. And the tumultuous, poll-swinging final month of the 2016 race shows that politics can change fast.
Republicans say there’s still plenty of time to turn things around. Even if Trump loses in November, they think if he improves his numbers enough they can still hold the Senate if enough moderates split their tickets and back Republicans in congressional races. The presidential election hasn’t really kicked into high gear yet, a late start driven largely by the coronavirus. But Republicans broadly agree that if the election remains a referendum on Trump’s performance rather than a choice, they're in big trouble.
“It’s as dire polling-wise as it’s ever been for Republicans in the Trump era.”
“It’s as dire polling-wise as it’s ever been for Republicans in the Trump era and if something doesn’t change it’s not going to be a pleasant November for Republicans,” said one Senate GOP strategist. “The silver lining is there is still time. But the conversation needs to change. It’s all about Trump.”
The Senate had long looked like an uphill fight for Democrats — but in recent weeks that’s changed.
Democrats need to net three seats, and both parties expect Democrats to lose Alabama and win Arizona. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) is fighting an uphill battle in a state where Trump’s numbers are abysmal. That would leave them two seats short, with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) next on the list. Collins’ bipartisan appeal has waned in recent years and she’s been neck-and-neck in recent polling. Tillis is expected to run even with or slightly behind Trump in his state, and Trump is currently losing in North Carolina.
But the map appears to be expanding for Democrats, with races that once looked like reaches suddenly looking very close. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) trailed in a quality recent public poll that had Trump slightly ahead, and Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) faces a dogfight against Montana Gov. Steve Bullock (D). If Trump loses Georgia, the seats held by Sens. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) could be vulnerable as well. The lone GOP target outside Alabama, Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), has little to worry about if Biden is comfortably winning his state.
“It looks pretty ominous right now in the Senate.”
“It looks pretty ominous right now in the Senate,” said a GOP strategist involved in multiple races. “They just have so many opportunities and the polling right now is so bad.”
The GOP still has some built-in advantages. Trump has a path to victory in the electoral college even if he loses the national popular vote by a few percentage points, and even if he loses narrowly, Democrats will likely have to win a seat or two in states he’s winning to take control of the chamber, like Montana or Iowa, to flip the Senate.
Republicans also say that part of Democrats’s advantage in the polls has been created because they’ve run more TV ads than the GOP — and that ad spending is starting to even out
“Democrats running in Senate races are just beginning to be examined and vetted after months of skating by without facing any tough questions. The more voters learn about the problems with their backgrounds and records, the worse it will be at the ballot box for them,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee spokesman Jesse Hunt.
But while many Republicans think that things can’t get much worse, there’s no guarantee that’s true. One GOP strategist who’d expressed less worry than many others called immediately after seeing the news of former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s blockbuster accusations that Trump, beginning the conversation with two words: “Holy shit.”
“Are we at the bottom or has the bottom not even dropped out yet?” wondered another strategist. “I don’t know what gets us out of this. People are probably just fucking sick of it.”
Cover: US President Donald Trump walks to Marine One as he departs from the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC, June 11, 2020. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)