Is There Still Hope for the Trump Campaign?

Supporters of President Trump at a campaign rally in Sanford, Fla., Oct. 13.

Photo: Giorgio Viera/Zuma Press

Editor’s note: In this Future View, students discuss whether the Trump campaign still has a path to victory. Next week we’ll ask, “If the Democrats win in November, why shouldn’t they pack the Supreme Court?” Students should click here to submit opinions of fewer than 250 words before Oct. 20. The best responses will be published that night.

Running Out of Options

President Trump’s management of the Covid-19 pandemic has been front and center in the campaign, and his hospitalization did nothing to remove it from the national spotlight. His response after his discharge struck a tone-deaf note for the millions of Americans who have lost a friend or loved one, and increasing case counts won’t improve public perception.

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Amid this worsening crisis, the Trump campaign is desperately seeking a winning issue to carry it through the next three weeks to the election. The president’s actions over the past four years have alienated some staunch Republicans, and even traditionally winning Republican issues don’t seem to be moving the needle for him in the twilight of this campaign. “LAW & ORDER,” as the president would tweet it, didn’t do it. A judicial nomination hasn’t turned the tide, at least not yet. Too many Americans remember Republican senators’ remarks in 2016 and think confirmation hearings should wait. The economy, another issue on which Republicans often win, has been slow to recover and jobless claims mount as stimulus talks sputter.

A plausible road to victory for the president would have to include regaining public trust in his ability to promote prosperity and keep Americans safe. After eroding that trust for months, recapturing it in three weeks will be exceedingly difficult. It isn’t likely to happen.

—Jacob Scherba, Duke University, biomedical engineering (M.D., Ph.D.)

We’ve Been Here Before

Loath as many are to admit it, President Trump still has a viable path to 270 electoral votes. Four years ago, citing all the same polls that are cited today, nobody thought he would beat Hillary Clinton. We forget how quickly things can change. James Comey’s decision to reopen the investigation into Mrs. Clinton’s email server right before the election changed the race’s dynamics. An October surprise—maybe the results of U.S. Attorney John Durham’s probe into the Mueller investigation, or maybe something that we’d never anticipate—could have the same effect this year.

Political commentators have dissected the first presidential debate to determine a winner, but they miss the mark. Gaining or losing votes in New York or Mississippi doesn’t matter. The winner is the candidate who swayed more voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and a few other states where the election will be decided. Again, the lesson of 2016 should be that the coastal pundit may despise what the undecided Midwesterner admires.

—Zev Benedek, Rutgers University-New Brunswick, actuarial science

Reasons for Optimism

There is hope left for the Trump campaign. The president’s supporters are enthusiastic and will turn out to vote, happy to reward him for keeping his campaign promises on Nafta, taxes, jobs and the military. If it does come down to turnout, the innovative Trump ground game, doing more than ever before to reach voters digitally, gives the incumbent an edge.

The Democrats also remain vulnerable at their left flank. Americans aren’t sure whether their party rejects the destruction of life and property committed this summer and fall. Law and order still matter and on this issue the Trump campaign again has the advantage. As the stock market bounces back—and 401(k)s with it—President Trump may find the wind is in his sails heading into the election.

—Cassandra Farrell, George Mason University, history (Ph.D.)

Step Out of the Spotlight

Although the odds are low, President Trump still has a chance to remain in the White House. It will come down to how he frames the race over the next few weeks, especially in the final debate, if it takes place. As conservative commentator Ben Shapiro has been saying for years, if the race is a referendum on Mr. Trump, the president will lose, but if it’s a referendum on Joe Biden and the Democrats, Mr. Trump wins. The president has to be willing to step out of the spotlight during the debates. He’ll have to give Mr. Biden the space to make mistakes and elaborate on his policies. Undecided voters will then be able to sit back and think about the next four years: Do they want to see their taxes go up and the Supreme Court packed?

—Tim Whelan, State University of New York at Buffalo, medicine (M.D.)

Click here to submit a response to next week’s Future View.

Potomac Watch: Vice President Mike Pence lays out an effective campaign formula: Point out the Biden-Harris radicalism and contrast it to a positive Trump agenda. Images: Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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