Will Trump's Tweets Cost Him the Election? - "The Sunday Political Brunch" - May 31, 2020

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – There has been a lot of emotion and passion this past week over the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis police. Even more emotion was added to the mix when President Trump tweeted about the ensuing violence. My job as a political analyst is to try to look beyond the emotion in assessing an event’s impact. I look at a lot of polling data and trends to draw my conclusions about whether someone might win an election, and why? Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“What He Said?” – After nights of violence and looting in Minneapolis, President Trump took to his favorite platform, Twitter, and said, in part, “...when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” He also referred to the perpetrators of the violence as “thugs,” a word that some interpret as having derogatory racial connotations. I make no judgement here. My readers are fully capable of drawing their own conclusions. What I do want to analyze and discuss is what the political fallout may be.

“The African American Vote” – African Americans comprise roughly 13 percent of the U.S. population, or 43 million people. Historically, they have voted in droves for members of the Democratic Party, especially in presidential races. For example, in 2016, Hillary Clinton received 91 percent of the black vote, with Donald Trump getting 6 percent, and the balance of 3 percent going to minor candidates. No other demographic of our population is this lopsided. The Hispanic vote, for example, was 66 percent for Clinton, 28 percent for Trump.

“Trump Makes Historic Inroads” – Trump promised to be inclusive and extend an olive branch to African Americans, even though few voted for him. When Trump laid out his economic plan, he was quick to brag that the people it would help the most were minority group members. Historically, Blacks and Hispanics had unemployment rates double the rest of the population, and minority youth employment was often above 20 percent. After tax cuts, economic growth and market investment, the economy grew tremendously. Unemployment in 2019 dropped to a 50-year low. Even many of his critics begrudgingly gave Trump at least partial credit. A 2019 poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 23 percent of Black men and 14 percent of Black women gave Trump a favorable approval rating.

“The Democrats Roadmap to a 2020 Victory” – I’ve written extensively since the 2016 election, on how Democrats could retake the White House in 2020. Democrats would have to win back the historically blue states of Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin, plus win all the other states they carried in 2016. Remember, they must win all three of those states; just two won’t put them in the White House.

“Why Turnout Matters” – As I pointed out, Hillary Clinton won African American voters by a huge landslide. While that may sound amazing, there is another aspect of that vote that is significant. Let’s look at Michigan. In 2012 in Detroit, a city that is 79 percent black, Barack Obama received 281,743 votes. In 2016, Hillary Clinton received 234,871 votes in Detroit, a drop of nearly 47,000 votes. Donald Trump won Michigan by a narrow 10,704 votes. It’s not that all those votes went to Trump (they didn’t). Instead, it reflected how many African American voters simply stayed home. It isn’t so much that Trump won Michigan in 2016, it’s more a reflection of how Hillary Clinton lost the state. It’s fair to say that Joe Biden, who is wildly popular among African Americans, will have a different strategy. If he can mobilize nearly 11,000 more black voters to back him, he wins Michigan.

"The Other States” – Politico reported that Black voter turnout in Wisconsin and Michigan was down 12 percent between 2012 and 2016. In Pennsylvania, it dropped a mere 2.1 percent. It was also down in other key battle ground states including Ohio, down 7.5 percent, and Florida, down 4.2 percent. Joe Biden has already promised to name a female running mate, but will she also be Black? He’s getting a lot of pressure to make that very choice. Stay tuned.

“It’s the Economy, Stupid!” – The famous James Carville line from 1992 still rings true. The number one factor in most presidential elections is the state of the economy. Yes, things were booming in Trump’s first three years, and just about everyone was working, with unemployment at 3.6 percent. In particular, minorities had their lowest unemployment rates, I believe, since those records were kept. But then, Covid-19 hit, and the economy tanked. The national unemployment rate is at 14.7 percent. The rate of positive tests and deaths from Covid-19 in minority groups is double the rate for the rest of the population. I’m not saying its Trump’s fault because it isn’t. But it’s a reflection that in politics when things are going well you get the credit, and when things go bad, you get the blame. Its not fair, but it is how politics works.

“Presidents Don’t Control the Economy” – The important point from the above economic analysis, is that presidents don’t control the economy. If they did, they’d all be reelected and remembered fondly! Presidential policies on tax and spending can certainly affect economic growth and consumer confidence. And, other bodies such and Congress and the Federal Reserve have influence, too. But no one can control the unexpected. The last three presidents who were voted out after one term – Ford, Carter, and Bush I – all lost due to a suffering economy.

“Words Matter” – We look to leaders to inspire and aspire. We look for guidance and comfort when things go bad. We look for words of congratulations and joy when things go well. But sometimes the wrong words or tone can inflame a delicate or volatile situation. President Trump can be like a bull in a China shop. He knows it, and it suits him fine. It’s one of the main reasons he got elected. But harsh words (or tweets) can also cause a backlash, and that could also have implications for November.

What are your thoughts on the president’s tweets?

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, its five neighboring states and most of the Washington, DC media market. He’s a National Contributing Political Writer for The White House Patch at www.Patch.com.

© 2020, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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