It was the death of a salesman. With tie undone and crumpled “Make America great again” cap in hand, Donald Trump cut a forlorn figure shambling across the White House south lawn on his return from his failed comeback rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Some observers likened him to Willy Loman, the tragic protagonist of Arthur Miller’s benchmark drama.
The US president, critics say, has spent years selling a bill of goods to the American people. Now they are no longer buying.
The thinly attended rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last weekend was the physical manifestation of what poll after poll is showing: Trump is trailing his Democratic rival Joe Biden by double digits and seemingly on course for a historic defeat in November’s presidential election.
But seasoned commentators warn against complacency. Trump still has time to fight back – and fight dirty.
“You look at the polls and think ‘he can’t win’,” tweeted Bill Kristol, who served in two Republican administrations. “But Trump’s path to victory doesn’t depend on persuading Americans. It depends on voter suppression, mass disinformation, foreign interference, and unabashed use of executive branch power to shape events, and perceptions, this fall.”
It was a reminder that the polls only tell part of any election story. In 2016, Trump nearly always appeared to be heading to defeat by Hillary Clinton. This time polls appear to point to a Biden landslide. The former vice-president leads Trump by 14 percentage points in a national survey of registered voters by the New York Times and Siena College.
As expected, the poll showed Biden well ahead among women, young people and African American and Hispanic voters. Alarmingly for the president, Biden had also drawn level among white voters, men, and middle-aged and older voters – typically the pillars of Trump’s support. This and numerous other polls also show Trump trailing badly in six swing states likely to decide the all-important electoral college.
At the start of the year Trump was confident of victory, but the research suggests voters are punishing him for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, exacerbation of the economic crisis and violent response to Black Lives Matter protests. This week he continued to downplay the virus, and staged campaign events with few face masks and little physical distancing, even as the national death toll topped 120,000 and the infection rate soared to the highest level since April.