Trump (might have) just saved his reelection chances

President Donald Trump’s largest obstacle to reelection is his perceived affinity for chaos. That issue has been supercharged by his response to COVID-19. 67% of US voters disapprove of his response. Trump’s general disapproval has always been high but it’s never been anywhere near that high while he’s been President– it peaked at 57.9 in the RCP average. For his approval to be that low on any issue, parts of his own base have to disapprove of him. If parts of Trump’s own base turn against him, Joe Biden will win 400+ electors. 

Now let’s look at a second data point: support for mask wearing. 72% of Americans wear a mask “very often” or “always” when they go out. 98% of Democrats do. But over half of Republicans don’t and over a quarter never do. America’s culture war doesn’t even take a break in a pandemic. And the rights general in the war is Donald Trump. 

That is what makes last Saturday’s news so important. For the first time, Trump was seen in public wearing a mask. Throughout most of the pandemic, Trump has been ambivalent toward masks at best– and openly hostile at worst. Yet, recently he’s clearly pivoted in towards mask wearing and Saturday was the culmination of that pivot. 

Trump wearing a mask in public was a first step to “correct for the dumber impulses of American culture.” Yet, it was only a first step. Trump needs to continue to make clear– with words and actions– that masks work to protect you and those around you and everyone should wear them. 

If Trump helps lead general mask wearing from a high-60s phenomenon to a mid-80s phenomenon, not only would the public health ramifications be significant but it could change voters’ perception of him. In a pandemic, voters don’t want a flame thrower who’s more concerned with the culture war than their safety and the economic recovery. They want a President that will solve the pandemic– or at least look like he is trying. As Governor Andrew Cuomo can attest, voters will accept a disaster as long as you look in charge.

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