When it comes to the pandemic, Trump has been behaving for months as if it’s on its way out the door. He is holding indoor rallies, inviting people to be largely maskless, and raising the risk that in these states he needs to win, he is playing a role in spreading the coronavirus rather than tamping it down.
At an ABC News town hall on Tuesday night with undecided voters in Pennsylvania, he repeatedly fell back on blaming China for the virus, and he did not directly answer questions about what more he could have done to stop its inevitable spread in the United States.
At one point, a voter asked him what the toughest part of his presidency has been. His answer:
“So I think without question, I would say — because things were going so well, I think I’d have to say the whole covid — the China virus, as I call it — because it comes from China, I think it’s a much more accurate term.”
He was asked what he learned from it. Again, China: “I’ve learned that life is very fragile, because these were strong people, and all of a sudden they were dead; they were gone. And it wasn’t their fault. It was the fault of a country that could have stopped it.”
Yet this Post-ABC News poll finds that for Wisconsin voters, the virus is a deadly threat they fear could be right on their doorstep at any moment, making Trump’s blame game about where it came from seem much more abstract: “Three in five voters in Wisconsin express worries that they or someone in their immediate family might contract the coronavirus, with about a quarter overall saying they are very worried.”
His stance is costing him voters. The poll found 54 percent in Wisconsin disapprove of the way Trump has handled the pandemic, while 44 percent approve. And Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is eating into Trump’s once-substantial lead among White voters without a college degree who helped him win a state like Wisconsin, and he is even leading Trump among White women without a college degree. (Trump won White women in 2016.)
The coronavirus is the second-most important issue for Wisconsin voters, and those who cited it as the single most important issue support Biden over Trump by 88 percent to 8 percent.
It’s the same story on race relations. In the ABC News town hall, the president was pressed over and over to just acknowledge that the United States struggles with racist institutions that hold back people of color. He wouldn’t. One telling exchange:
Voter: …. you have yet to address and acknowledge that there’s been a race problem in America.
Trump: Well, I hope there’s not a race problem. I can tell you, there’s none with me, because I have great respect for all races, for everybody. This country is great because of it.
Here, too, Trump’s play-to-the-base strategy is clear. And this new poll underscores it’s not working to help him win over swing voters, even in a majority-White state.
The Post-ABC News poll finds that a bare majority of Wisconsin voters support the protests against police brutality and racial injustice. When Trump went to a Wisconsin city after a police shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, earlier this month, he didn’t meet with Blake’s family or Black community members, but he did visit burned-out businesses and talked sympathetically with law enforcement. Biden went a few days later and took a more empathetic tone toward the protests (while still denouncing violence and looting).
Now we see that in this poll, by a margin of 10 points, voters in Wisconsin trust Biden over Trump more to handle equal treatment of racial groups.
This is all in one of the potentially friendliest 2020 battleground states for Trump. The Post’s Dan Balz and Emily Guskin write, “Overall, Trump’s approval rating stands at 46 percent positive and 52 percent negative in Wisconsin, which is better for him than many national polls.”
Trump seems reflexively concerned that by talking about the hard stuff in America, he will get blamed for it. “I don’t take responsibility at all,” he said back in March about the botched, slow rollout of coronavirus tests.
The irony for him is that as he tries to ignore these ongoing crises, he’s losing voters.