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Trump’s Rough Patch

2020-06-04 15:01:01
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Since President Trump shot to the top of the Republican presidential field five years ago, his critics on both the right and the left have been eager to predict his imminent political demise. So far, of course, those critics have yet to be right.

There is no way to know whether the current moment is different. But it’s becoming clear that Trump is in the midst of one of the worst stretches of his presidency, if not the single worst.

Yesterday afternoon, his former defense secretary, James Mattis — who had avoided criticizing Trump since resigning 17 months ago — issued a stinging condemnation of the Trump administration’s response to the protests. “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try,” Mattis told The Atlantic. “Instead he tries to divide us.”

Mattis suggested that Trump had made “a mockery of our Constitution” by using the military to break up a peaceful protest so he could stage “a bizarre photo op.” Mattis was echoing criticism from other former military leaders who have also rebuked Trump.

Even two of Trump’s own top military leaders tried to distance themselves from him. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said that active-duty military troops should not be used to quell protests. And Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reminded commanders that members of the armed forces had sworn an oath to Constitution, which “gives Americans the right to freedom of speech and peaceful assembly.”

Trump has been the target of harsh criticism from political elites before, and it has never shaken his solid support among Republican voters. But Trump does seem to be losing the support, at least temporarily, of swing voters.

Two recent national polls have shown Joe Biden’s lead over Trump surging to about 10 percentage points, up from only two or three points in March, as Nate Cohn, a Times political analyst, has noted. Those polls are of all registered voters, and Trump probably trails by less among likely voters. But a 10-point deficit is not good.

Trump’s recent slide has been serious enough to make his advisers nervous that he could lose some states that he won relatively easily in 2016, like Ohio and Iowa, The Times’s Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman report. The campaign is spending millions of dollars on advertising in those two states, as well as Arizona. “There is no obvious strategy in terms of message,” said Rob Stutzman, a Republican strategist.

The chaos now roiling the country — a pandemic, a protest movement and the sharpest economic downturn in decades — bears some resemblance to the chaos of 1980, 1968 and 1932. The incumbent president failed to win re-election in each of those years.

There are still almost five months until Election Day. A lot can change in that time. And Trump is a talented politician, with an unusual ability to shape the national debate. Right now, though, he is struggling.

Minnesota charged three officers with aiding and abetting murder in the death of George Floyd. The state also upgraded to second-degree murder the charge against Derek Chauvin, who pinned his knee on Floyd’s neck. The tougher charge requires prosecutors to prove Chauvin intended to kill Floyd or that he did so while committing another felony

In other protest developments:


Five conservative Democrats in the New Mexico state legislature lost primaries on Tuesday, partly because of previous votes to uphold an abortion ban. In Philadelphia, a socialist candidate for the state legislature, Nikil Saval, beat an incumbent Democrat. (The Times recently profiled Saval.)

The wins were notable because the most progressive wing of the Democratic Party has generally struggled to win races in the last few years: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is an exception; not a single competitive House district is represented by a Bernie Sanders-style Democrat.


The Swedish epidemiologist who has overseen the country’s laissez-faire response to the coronavirus said yesterday that it should have taken more aggressive steps. The epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, had previously defended the approach — meant to build up “herd immunity,” by encouraging normal behavior — and criticized other countries.

The Guardian reported that Sweden suffered the world’s highest per capita death rate in the week that ended Tuesday, although some other countries still have higher overall death rates.

A view from Gothenburg: “It was a shock at first to see young people sitting in bars, office workers crowding food trucks and hair salons filled with clients,” says my colleague Lara Takenaga, who recently relocated to Sweden from New York. “There are sometimes signs in stores instructing you to keep two meters apart or a lone bottle of hand sanitizer, but no one wears face coverings or gloves. The threat of the virus feels distant — it’s almost like the Before Times.”

“A brief hug, as long as we stay out of each other’s breathing zones, is probably less risky than a long conversation,” she told me. But she added that we should still limit our hugs. As one scientist told her, “I would take the Marie Kondo approach — the hug has to spark joy.”

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Instrument for Sam in “Casablanca” (five letters).

You can find all of our puzzles here.


Thanks for spending part of your morning with The Times. See you tomorrow. — David

P.S. Thanks to the many readers who sent suggestions for our Twitter list of virus experts. We’ve added several scientists and will continue updating the list.

You can see today’s print front page here.

Today’s episode of “The Daily” is about the protests. And the latest episode of “The Argument” an Opinion podcast, discusses what role violence can play in achieving social change.

The Times is providing free access to much of our coronavirus coverage. Please consider supporting our journalism with a subscription.

Ian Prasad Philbrick and Sanam Yar contributed to The Morning. You can reach the team at [email protected].


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