WASHINGTON — Forecasting presidential elections is a risky business, but political prognosticator Charlie Cook says, “you can take this prediction to the bank”:
“This will be the ugliest, dirtiest, most mean-spirited presidential election in our lifetimes, if not ever,” he writes in his widely read election newsletter, “The Cook Political Report.”
“Right now,” he adds, “there are only two things that matter to voters: the coronavirus and the economy. Both are likely to get much worse before they get better. It is pretty hard to see how the economy can rebound from its current free fall in time to be felt by voters before the election.”
Until this year, he adds, “the recipe for a Trump victory was twofold: First, he needed a strong vote out of his base, which still seems extremely likely to me. Second, he needed to ride the strong economy, giving him a sufficient tailwind to win over enough voters in the right combination of states to get him the Electoral College win, even if he loses the popular vote again.”
But, Cook says, “that tailwind is gone. If there is an economic wind in any direction, it will more likely be in his face, not at his back.”
With the number of COVID-19 cases spreading ever faster across our country, Trump’s decision to push the reopening of state and local economies, parks, shopping malls, factories and other businesses is the height of irresponsibility. By mid-week, the total number of confirmed cases stood at over 1.2 million and the number of deaths in the country had topped 75,000.
“Polls have also made clear that despite his protestations, voters see him as waiting far too long to take the coronavirus seriously, missing an opportunity to mitigate its severity through ramping up testing capabilities and stockpiling personal protective equipment,” Cook says.
Then Cook offers this devious little tidbit about what Trump was really up to as he pushed for opening up our economies.
“Since you may have some free time these days, curl up with the findings of the new NBC News/Wall Street Journal and Pew Research Center polls, and you will see little good in it for Trump. My guess is that your conclusions will match mine,” he tells his readers.
“Trump’s base can absolutely be counted on to stick with him; it is unrealistic to think they will abandon him now. But because he never got a honeymoon period, he’s never had a major national poll show him with even a 50 percent overall job approval. He never had enough excess supporters to shed when things got tough.”
Cook, who has thoroughly read all of the polls, tells us that Trump has other weaknesses, too — ones that the news media hasn’t told us.
He points to an “unreleased poll presentation I read,” that “voters in the middle see him as ‘impulsive, risky, erratic and chaotic,’ with a ‘recklessness and unwillingness to listen to experts.’”
Cook, who also knows the history of presidential polling data backward and forward, tells us that Trump is “the first president in history to never have a majority job approval rating.”
As for Trump’s polls not being what many of his supporters think they should be, Cook sent out a column on April 21 titled “Trump’s briefings now providing diminishing — even negative — returns.” In it, he expressed shock over a Gallup Poll released mid-April that showed “43% approving of Trump, with 54% disapproving.”
“That’s 6 points below his 49% approval (45% disapproval) rating for the period of March 13-22,” he writes. Cook questioned the numbers, warning, “One poll does not a trend make,” and noted in passing that Trump’s numbers have been remarkably static throughout his presidency.
Cook went on to say, “There’s no question that he has been in a hurry to get people back to work and stop the economic free fall that we have been in.”
He then offered this piece of advice for Trump: “It seems he now understands that one thing that would kill his reelection hopes more than anything else would be reopening too quickly.”
And Cook attached this ominous warning: “If a second or even a third wave of the virus hits, he’ll own the decision to release the brakes.”
Donald Lambro has been covering Washington politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.