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.