Trump campaign fires pollsters over poor numbers

Posted at 6:18 PM, Jun 17, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-17 18:18:49-04

President Donald Trumpis charging into his re-election launch week by warning his supporters that polls, including by his own campaign, showing him trailing Democratic front-runner Joe Biden are not real.

Trump hit back Monday after his team fired several pollsters whose early swing state surveys angered the President when they showed him lagging behind in states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that paved his way to the White House.

The controversy threatened to detract from Trump’s big launch rally in Orlando, Florida, on Tuesday night meant to make a big splash for a re-election campaign that in reality has been in full gear ever since he took office.

In a Monday morning tweet, the President warned his followers not to believe any polling that showed him trailing Democrats.

“Only Fake Polls show us behind the Motley Crew. We are looking really good, but it is far too early to be focused on that. Much work to do! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” Trump wrote.

The tweet was reminiscent of the President’s instruction to his supporters last year to “stick with us” and not to believe any news that reflects badly on him: “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening,” he said in July 2018.

For reasons of personal vanity and political necessity, the President cannot afford the impression that his re-election bid is in trouble, since his fate in November 2020 rests on whipping up huge enthusiasm among his political base.

But his characteristic technique of sketching an alternative political reality will face its ultimate test in the coming 17 months, especially since the ceiling of his approval ratings that has remained stubbornly stuck in the low 40s would typically spell trouble for a President seeking re-election.

Sources told CNN that the President has been angry for days about the internal polls leaked to the media last week that showed him losing to Democrats, including Joe Biden, in states like Michigan and Wisconsin.

Trump’s campaign has publicly pushed back against data that it says is weeks old and doesn’t reflect the current situation, especially after the conclusion of the Mueller investigation.

But privately, a person familiar with the situation told CNN that the dismissals were less to do with the quality of the pollsters’ work than about pacifying the President.

Trump typically fulminates against polls that show him doing badly while cherry picking others, that however dubiously, appear to show him in a more favorable political position.

In a Monday morning tweet, the President warned his followers not to believe any polling that showed him trailing Democrats.

“Only Fake Polls show us behind the Motley Crew. We are looking really good, but it is far too early to be focused on that. Much work to do! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!” Trump wrote.

Going after Biden

But the latest campaign intrigue may offer a window into some of the uncertainties and potential weaknesses that surround Trump’s re-election campaign at the moment he plans to amp it up.

Any softening of the President’s popularity in the blue-collar Midwestern heartland would set warning signals flashing inside his camp given his relatively narrow path to re-election.

Whomever comes out of the 20-plus field of Democrats to face the President will have to be prepared for a man who is adept at attacking his rivals, as evidenced during the 2016 campaign and throughout his presidency.

Trump accused Biden of flip-flopping — most recently on abortion — under pressure from more radical Democrats in an interview clip released over the weekend.

“He has recalibrated on everything,” Trump told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. “Everything he’s said he’s taken back two weeks later because he’s getting slammed by the left.”

Signs that Biden — the Democratic frontrunner — is a serious threat would further play on Trump’s mind on a topic over which he has spent considerable time agonizing, sources say.

The President even attacked Biden during a recent trip to Japan — using assaults on the former vice president’s mental capacity by North Korea’s official media — to back up his case.

The leaked polls could have a double electoral consequence in that they appear to bolster Biden’s central campaign argument that he is the Democrat most likely to dispatch Trump in 2020.

But more fundamentally, a candidate that cannot bear to learn the truth about his own campaign is not one who can be considered in a strong position on the eve of its formal launch, or who can easily make tactical adjustments all successful re-election bids require.

The campaign that never ended

Early state polling is not always predictive of how a race ends. And other first-term presidents have often looked more vulnerable than they turned out to be after months on the trail.

Incumbent presidents — especially those steering a strong economy like Trump — have historically had a clear advantage when seeking a second term in office.

And few politicians are as good at defining and eviscerating a campaign trail foe than Trump. So in many ways, the 2020 race will not begin until there is a Democratic nominee.

Yet the President cannot offer as an excuse for worrying poll numbers the usual incumbent’s argument that he has been so consumed with governing that he has had no time for politics.

In fact, his kickoff rally in Orlando on Tuesday night expected to feature an overflow crowd and include Vice President Mike Pence and first lady Melania Trump, may be the most superfluous campaign launch in US political history.

Not only did Trump never stop running after his staggering 2016 election win, he has devoted almost every day since to defending the legitimacy of his presidency and positioning for re-election.

Crafting his message

In thousands of tweets, scores of rallies, multiple speeches, and friendly TV interviews, Trump has celebrated his 2016 triumph and obsessively cultivated his political base.

He spent the weekend setting the tone for his re-election push, blasting Democrats, the Russia probe, the media, touting his border wall and warning of a national disaster if he loses.

In a tweet, the President boasted that the economy was setting records “and has a long way up to go…” typically augmenting reality in leveraging his best argument for re-election.

“If anyone but me takes over in 2020 (I know the competition very well), there will be a Market Crash the likes of which has not been seen before! KEEP AMERICA GREAT,” he wrote.

Trump has generally sought refuge in friendly interviews inside the conservative media machine in recent months. The ABC interview appeared to be an attempt to engage a wider audience. But the plan may have backfired because it delivered days of unflattering headlines for the President as individual excerpts were released.

Trump’s tweets offer a nutshell introduction to his re-election strategy that will likely be fleshed out on Tuesday: Make exaggerated claims for his own success, tear at cultural and social fault lines that helped him win power, and whip up anger against those he defines as political enemies.

His rhetoric in recent weeks also suggests Trump will make a case to Republicans who backed him in 2016 that he’s worked tirelessly to honor his campaign vows and proven to be a great deal maker — despite debatable evidence.

He will highlight the lowest unemployment rate in half a century, gutted government regulations, the travel ban his aides say kept Americans safe, the elimination of a key Obamacare mandate and increased defense spending by NATO members.

He’s already raised nearly $100 million for the “Keep America Great” campaign and has crushed dissent within the GOP to ensure the best possible chance at a unified party in the re-election effort.

Rallying the base in the battleground states

Washington buzz about turmoil in his campaign polling machine is unlikely to penetrate the crowds drawn from Trump’s uber-loyal political base — especially in Florida where he racked up huge turnout in 2016, particularly in the northwestern panhandle area.

But the decision to begin there rather than in his midwestern bastion is a reminder that the Sunshine State will be vital if 2020 is even closer than 2016 should some of his heartland battlegrounds return to Democratic control.

Trump’s entire presidency so far has been a bet that the fiercely loyal grass roots voters who helped him win in 2016 will do so again against a Democrat not named Hillary Clinton.

The theory of Trump/Pence 2020, initiated in unusual campaign rallies during the presidential transition, has disdained broadening his base in favor of keeping voters who idolize him motivated and sufficiently angry to return to polling places in huge numbers.

The 17-month race to Election Day that Trump will preview in Florida on Tuesday night will test whether that strategy is a shrewd bet on a nation that is more polarized than in previous decades.

Or it could reveal that Trump’s tumultuous presidency did not just succeed in electrifying his base — but sparked a Democratic backlash that could ultimately send him home to New York.

That’s why the leaked polling data from inside Trump’s campaign — whether it reflects the current state of the race on the ground or not — could be an early danger sign for Trump in 2020.