There are legitimate questions about how effective television advertisements are in our current political environment where so few people seem undecided between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, but they’re unlikely to hurt unless they’re poorly designed. Michael Bloomberg has put $100 million into ads in Florida, and this has forced Trump to respond. The problem is, he doesn’t have enough money to keep up the pace in the Sunshine State without withdrawing planned ad buys in places like Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Former Republican strategist Mike Murphy captured the situation well in describing the Trump campaign’s spending habits, “You could literally have 10 monkeys with flamethrowers go after the money, and they wouldn’t have burned through it as stupidly.” Frank Luntz says Trump is running the worst campaign he’s ever seen and that his advisers should be “brought up on charges of political malpractice.”
The ominous signs are everywhere for Trump (there are some for Biden, too, if you’re willing to search for them), but one in particular should carry a little extra weight. Four years ago, signs of Trump’s coming rural romp began showing up first in congressional race polling, where the Republican challenger’s district-level lead ballooned between Labor Day and mid-October. As Dave Wasserman explains (behind a firewall at Cook Political Report):
“Fast forward to 2020: district-level polls are full of danger signs for Trump. In both parties’ private surveys — used to make key resource allocation decisions — he’s routinely underperforming his 2016 margins by eight to ten points, consistent with national polls. As a result, one well-placed GOP member told us this week ‘it would be a pleasant surprise if we only lost ten House seats.’”
Any idea the Republicans had of picking up House seats seems to have evaporated, but it’s also a strong signal that the national polls aren’t skewed or biased against Trump. Democrats were too busy having fun with the Access Hollywood tape in mid-October 2016 to notice that things were going squirrelly in rural and small-town America, but people know now to look for this type of omen.
Part of the strategy behind making Trump fight in Florida is that it prevents him from defending other turf, so it’s not premised or reliant on actually carrying the state. Having said that, of the 35 October polls of Florida collected by FiveThirtyEight, Biden has led in 26, trailed in four, and been tied in five. They give him a 70 percent chance of winning there.
Trump currently trails in the FiveThirtyEight projections for Wisconsin (88 percent Biden win), Michigan (93 percent Biden win), and Pennsylvania (87 percent Biden win), and is struggling in Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Arizona, and Georgia. A Data for Progress survey released Tuesday had Biden up by one point in Texas, and SurveyMonkey poll released on Wednesday has the the race tied with likely voters.
As Astead Herndon explains in the New York Times, this positive landscape has the Democrats cautiously talking about a landslide victory.
For some Democrats, Mr. Trump’s attention to red states is also a sign of something else — something few in the party want to discuss out loud, given their scars from Mr. Trump’s surprise victory in 2016. It’s an indication that Mr. Biden could pull off a landslide in November, achieving an ambitious and rare electoral blowout that some Democrats think is necessary to quell any doubts — or disputes by Mr. Trump — that Mr. Biden won the election.
On one level, such a scenario is entirely plausible based on the weeks and the breadth of public polls that show Mr. Biden with leads or edges in key states. But this possibility runs headlong into the political difficulties of pulling off such a win, and perhaps even more, the psychological hurdles for Democrats to entertain the idea. Many think that Mr. Trump, having pulled off a stunning win before, could do it again, even if there are differences from 2016 that hurt his chances.
With the stakes in this election so high, there’s no room for overconfidence or complacency, but there’s no denying that Trump has placed himself behind the eight-ball. The rest of the Republican Party is trapped there, too.