The blame game is not good politics right now

by | Mar 26, 2020 | Ads, coronavirus, Editor's Blog | 7 comments

This week, Gallup released polls showing Donald Trump’s approval ratings improving by about five points. By a large margin, people approve of the way he’s handling the crisis. Trump’s rating bump is fueled mainly by more independents and Democrats rallying to his side. 

The response from Democrats was typical. They unleashed ads showing Trump misleading the public and blaming him for the nation being unprepared for the crisis. They’re following the rules of politics: keep his negatives high and positives low. I’m not sure the same rules apply and I don’t think their timing is right.

People are scared right now. They don’t understand what exactly is happening with this virus and they want answers. They’re turning to the president because they don’t know where else to go. They crave information but I suspect most of the change is with low-information voters who aren’t going to seek out updates from outlets that do more in depth reporting. They’re going to get it from the easiest place possible—cable or the evening news. They see Trump flanked by experts and, even if they don’t really like him, they want him to succeed for their own sakes. 

We’re at the very beginning of the crisis. A lot of hospitals will get overwhelmed in the coming days and weeks. A lot of people will get sick. Many will die. It’s going to take a couple of months at least to get through the worst of it and when we do, we might have to go through it again later. 

Instead of attacking Trump, Democrats should be focusing on the leadership of Democratic governors like Andrew Cuomo, Jay Inslee, and Roy Cooper and offering information that helps Americans understand the pandemic itself. They should better help Americans understand what we’re trying to do by flattening the curve. Give them advice around social distancing and shoot straight with them about timelines. Those will be great comparisons to Trump next fall.

There will be plenty of time to point fingers and assign blame. The ads that Democrats are running about Trump’s failures now will still be relevant in late summer and early fall. Right now, people don’t care as much about how we got here as they do about what’s going to happen next. Democrats would be wise to help them brace for the coming catastrophe instead of assigning blame for results that haven’t happened yet. 

Trump’s approval ratings right now are irrelevant to the presidential campaign. They will fall significantly as the seriousness of the crisis sets in. Democrats don’t need to do anything to drive them down. Now, though, they should be offering solutions, helping people understand the pandemic and reassuring them that we can get through this time. The people that Democrats need to persuade in November aren’t paying attention to the back-and-forth over blame. 


  1. Lawrence Baxter


    I associate myself with the feelings expressed in the comments above, but for effective politics you are absolutely right.

    The public is scared and know or want to believe that experts are now in charge, even as the Present continues to bumble.

    Great leadership by state governors should be played up and accountability left alone until the time for reckoning arrives. The public is just not listening to blame.

    I have seen this evolution in my own social media interactions.

  2. cocodog

    It is amazing how Trumps approval rating will go up when republicans are giving away money. Nate Silver posted graphs showing as much as a 4% raise in approval ratings since Trump started making noises about giving folks anywhere from 500 to 3600 bucks. Sort of reminded me of a study done several years ago of an elementary school election for class president. The kid who handed flyers wrapped around a piece of candy won. I personally would like to see an administration that says it is doing great things and in fact accomplishes these objectives rather than one who lies about its greatness and accomplishes nothing.

    • Evan

      Seems like the Republicans have co-opted a strategy that the Democrats have used successfully for many years.

      • cocodog

        if you are referring to responsible leadership coupled with common sense as the piece of “wrapped candy”, I agree. Moreover, Obama did exactly that without being impeached, telling over 37000 documented lies, having six of his campaign staff later shipped off to the Federal slammer and firing over 60% of his white house support group because they made the unfortunate mistake of not agreeing with a self-proclaimed stable genius. Name calling has been Trump’s guiding philosophy both at his rallies and twitter. I hope Democrats continue to fact call.

  3. Rick Gunter

    Thomas, you may be right about all of this. But if Mr. Trump had Democrat after his name, the Republicans would be running him out of Dodge. The buck used to stop at the desk of the president of the United States. But this president does not take responsibility for anything, and his enablers back him up. I am fed up to here with this guy. He was told at least two months ago that this damnable virus was on its way. By that point, he basically had gutted, fire, or both, any semblance of structure and experts to deal with the coming chaos.

    It is wrong not to point fingers at this guy.
    It also is appropriate to level criticism again at the Senate Republicans who gave him a pass in impeachment. He should not even be president now. Pence could not be as bad, and I don’t care for this anti-science guy at all.

    Yes, I am damn angry. I am angry about what happened. In the Army, when someone screwed up, we took names and they faced an accounting. The commander in chief needs to kick in the behind and sent on his way. And don’t let the door hit him on the way out.

    He left the country unprepared. I don’t blame him for the virus. I sure as hell blame him for the lack of preparation and leadership. I can think of no other more egregious failure than this one. Mr. Trump even makes George W. Bush’s failure before 9/11 look tolerable, if barely.

    • Norma Munn

      Rick, I share your reaction. I would add that after this is past (and I am quite unsure when that will be) the GOP and its supporters will object to rehashing the difficulties of these months. I can hear it now –“It is time for us to move on. We have to deal with the problems we face right now.”

      I know people seriously at risk, including members of my family I love dearly, from this virus and I will always hold Trump and his Senate cohorts responsible for more deaths than we might have otherwise have. Angry is not a sufficient word for my reaction.

      • Rick Gunter

        Thank you, Ms. Munn, for your comment to my comment.
        It is a different situation, but as young man, I recall hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., ask, “If
        not now, when?”

        This is a matter of life and death. Trump has blotched this so badly. I frankly as mad as hell about it and my anger is not going away by appeals not to raise hell about this guy. If not now, when?

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