MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 15th of July, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up today: Washington Wednesday.
The 2020 election is turning out to be one of the quietest in recent memory. And it has just 12 weeks to go before we should know the winner.
Normally by now, political ads fill the airwaves, and campaign news dominates the headlines. But the coronavirus pandemic has done the seemingly impossible: move a hotly contested race for the White House to the back burner.
BASHAM: Still, things are starting to heat up, even if a bit slowly. Joe Biden released a new set of ads this week, targeting what was once the heart of Trump country.
BIDEN: I’m thinking of all of you today, across Texas. I know the rising case numbers are causing fear and apprehension. People are frightened. They’re most concerned about their parents and grandparents, loved ones who are most at risk. This virus is tough, but Texas is tougher. If you’re sick, if you’re struggling, if you’re worried about how you’re going to get through the day, I will not abandon you. We’re all in this together.
A Democrat ad in Texas. Recent polling indicates Texas is squarely in play, which has led both sides to pour ads and resources into the state.
President Trump had hoped to run on the country’s soaring economy. Instead, he’s emphasizing his ability to fix it.
TRUMP AD: President Trump gave us the strongest economy America has ever known. Millions of new jobs. Lowest unemployment rate for black and Hispanic Americans. And he will do it again.
EICHER: Well, it is Washington Wednesday. Joining us now to talk about the presidential campaign is Henry Olsen. He’s a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a columnist for the Washington Post.
Henry, how are you?
HENRY OLSEN, GUEST: I’m great. How about you?
EICHER: Good! Hey, I know you know these poll numbers really, really well. And you also know how wrong they were back in 20-16.
Nevertheless, it feels like we’re on the verge of a sweep by Joe Biden and the Democrats. I saw in your newspaper that Biden’s buying ads in Texas and he’s up by big margins in swing states, according to some recent polls.
What do you make of all this?
OLSEN: Well, if the election were held today, Biden would win by 9 to 11 points and Democrats would take control of the Senate with a very large majority. I think the president’s botched responses to the coronavirus and the murder of George Floyd and that cost him the momentum he had going into early March, and he’s now having to dig out of an historically deep poll for a president running for reelection.
EICHER: You know, I was going to ask you about the coronavirus effect. It does seem to have reset absolutely everything here. The president seems to be getting the benefit of the doubt on the economy. The polling continues to show voters trust President Trump most on that. But at this point they trust Biden on almost everything else, including the government response to the coronavirus. Do you see that as the deciding factor for enough people?
OLSEN: I don’t think it’ll necessarily be the deciding factor going forward, but I think that the coronavirus makes millions of people, tens of millions of people feel unsafe about the thing that is most basic, which is their life. And until the president can establish a bond with people that he values their lives first, then I think it’s going to be very difficult for him to switch the conversation to grounds that he is stronger for.
EICHER: If we go back just a few months, though, Henry, it was very different. Seems like the bottom has dropped out.
OLSEN: What’s happened since March is that he has lost grounds among the independents. In early March before coronavirus, he was leading among independents and that had him within striking distance. And the trends suggested that he would be a favorite if they continued up until this point. Since coronavirus and the murder of George Floyd, he is now losing among independents. And that is why he has gone from being 5 points down in early March with an upward trajectory to being 9 points down and a stable or downwards trajectory.
EICHER: Now, and you said it yourself, if the election were held today, Biden wins. But of course the election is not today and you know the iron rule of politics: all races tighten.
OLSEN: The question is whether the race will tighten to the point where we can expect Trump to win. I do think the race will tighten because there are people who are generally Republican who are right now uncertain and I think they will come back to being a reluctant Trump voters, but Trump has to get himself up to around 46-47 percent of the national popular vote, closer to 47, to have a shot at winning a narrow Electoral College victory. He has not been above 47 percent in the job approval rating at the Real Clear Politics average for more than a day since February of 2017. And presidents tend to get the share of the vote that they are polling on Election Day in their job approval. So, what Trump has to do is establish trust in him and then he can get people to focus on Joe Biden. But until he does that, it’s just a case of narrowing the margin of defeat.
EICHER: You mentioned focusing on Joe Biden, so let’s do that. Biden released his economic plan last week. I hardly blink anymore at spending plans after the spending on coronavirus economic relief. But Biden’s calling for a $15 an hour minimum wage. He says he can create 5 million new jobs with a $700 billion expenditure on U.S.-based goods and services and technology research and development.
He’s making a bid here for working class voters, many of whom went for Trump in 2016. Is this the right strategy?
OLSEN: I don’t know it’s everything the right strategy, but Obama-Trump voters are the left of Republican voters on the economy. They want government to ensure jobs and they want to ensure those jobs at good wages. Biden is talking about that. He is making a play for those voters.
EICHER: Lost the end of that there. Heard you say Biden’s making a play for those voters. Let’s move to the Veepstakes. We could find out any day now who Joe Biden picks for his running mate. He has said he will choose a woman. But there’s still lots of room for speculation on who she might be and what the choice says about what a Biden presidency might look like.
OLSEN: I think it could. I think that Biden is already telling us how he’ll govern, which is he’ll go as far left as he needs to to keep the Democratic Party intact and that’s what he’s focusing on rather than keeping his broader general election coalition, which includes many centrist voters intact. I think if he picks a strong vice president like an Elizabeth Warren, it signals a strong desire—whether to Warren or someone else—to see the party move left after he’s gone. But one way or another, Biden’s first year in office will be further to the left of anything—
EICHER: Phone’s acting up on us here, sorry. Let me just ask one final question and it’s about President Trump’s biggest appeal to Christian conservative voters was constitutionalists on the courts, especially on the Supreme Court. Lots of disappointment at the Supreme Court this past term—a transgender case for which Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion. A case on abortion that came as a surprise. Does that change anything this time around? Change the president’s pitch?
OLSEN: I don’t think it’ll change the pitch at all. I think the question is whether the marginal Christian conservative, who usually does not back Republicans but does back Trump or did back Trump, whether they’ll believe it this time. Trump got 81 percent of the evangelical Christian vote in a record high percentage in a contested, non-landslide race among white Catholics. Doesn’t take a whole lot of slippage in those percentages to really cause problems for Trump, but it’s that small but crucial segment of the electorate that they need to worry about.
EICHER: Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. Thanks.
OLSEN: Thanks for having me on.