Monday, October 12, 2020

Why undecided voters could dump Trump

The writer of my featured author, Tim Miller, was the communications director for Jeb Bush in the 2016 primary. This Sunday morning he considers the reasons why people don’t like Trump, and more generally, what immutable characteristics will cause undecided voters to dump on Trump.

The email … was the result of our latest internal poll. I knew it was ugly, but didn’t know just how ugly. I had made one request of the pollster. Include an open-ended question: “What do you like least about Jeb Bush?” After quickly scanning the topline results—I don’t recall what it was besides bad—I scrolled immediately to the results of that question. What I found was devastating, if predictable. Over 80 percent of the voters said the thing they liked least about my candidate was his last name or his demeanor. And well, there’s not a whole lot you can do about either of those. The voters wanted an outsider and an asshole, two things that Jeb was never gonna be no matter what his political consultants came up with. It confirmed for me that we were in deep, deep trouble and the path to winning over the voters we needed was either murky or nonexistent.

Earlier this week, I got another email regarding a poll, this time commissioned by Republican Voters Against Trump*, a group for which I am the political director. We asked about 350 undecided voters a similar open-ended question to see what was preventing them from voting for Donald Trump. The result?

Two-thirds of those who had an answer to that question said he’s a racist/arrogant/unintelligent jerk who “doesn’t represent the country well,” “lies,” and is “unfit to do the job.”

Some verbatims, just for your enjoyment’s sake:

  • “He is a horrible human being”
  • “He is incredibly rude”
  • “Terrible representative for our country”
  • “He’s sexist and racist”
  • “He’s an idiot”
  • “His arrogance”
  • “Slimebag”

Remember these are the undecided voters.

This news isn’t as dire for Trump as it was for Jeb—Trump is starting from a much higher floor given that this is a general election, not a primary, and he has a committed base of support. But there are parallels in the sense that those whom Trump is trying to win over have largely rendered a verdict on him based on inherent traits that he can’t change.

He might’ve had a chance to convince some of these voters that he wasn’t a racist five months ago, for example, when the George Floyd protests started. But that ship sailed. As for the rest of this stuff, there never was a path to fixing his inherent assholishness, nor his compulsive lying.

Had the poll said these undecideds were upset that he “wasn’t focused on the economic recovery aspect of the pandemic” for example, maybe his COVID-infected campaign manager could dial up some ads about kitchen-table economics or he could twist Mitch’s arm on the stimulus. But that isn’t Trump’s problem with these voters. His problem is that they don’t like him.

In 2016, Trump won, with an assist from Anthony Weiner and Jim Comey, on the back of a surge among these very voters—last-minute deciders who didn’t like either candidate all that much. If he is going to recreate that magic this time, our poll indicates that he’s going to have to do it by disqualifying Biden. And he took one such opportunity off the table by throwing a tantrum and ducking the next debate…

Stay tuned.

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