Battleground Bulletin: The secret behind Donald Trump’s incoherent and ineffective closing argument

October 25, 2020

The secret behind Donald Trump’s incoherent and ineffective closing argument

It’s hard to drive an effective message when no one trusts a word you say.

With the clock ticking down on the 2020 election and his campaign trailing in the polls, it’s become increasingly clear to any and all observers that Donald Trump doesn’t have what it takes to make a compelling and coherent closing argument to the voters.

Rather than finishing his reelection push on a high note and framing up a clear choice between himself and his opponent, Trump has spent the final weeks of the cycle indulging in debunked conspiracy theories, feuding with an ever-expanding number of journalists, and generally behaving erratically like a scared animal backed into a corner. Or in other words: doing the exact opposite of what might instill confidence in an anxious electorate living through multiple concurrent crises.

So while it might seem odd that Trump hasn’t been able to control his worst impulses for just a few short weeks in the service of cobbling together something resembling a normal pitch for his continued employment in the nation’s highest office, it’s not particularly surprising when you take a look at the data.

The reality is stark: Trump can’t make a decent closing argument about his fitness to handle the most important issues facing the nation, because most voters simply don’t trust him or approve of his performance on those very same issues. The President of the United States has spent the past four years continuously undermining his own credibility — and now it’s coming back to bite him.

Voters don’t trust Trump to handle the most important issues facing the country.

It’s fairly hard to drive an effective message if most voters don’t believe a word that comes out of your mouth. And that’s exactly the situation that Donald Trump finds himself in today. A recent Associated Press/NORC survey found that a majority of voters (51%) said Trump’s campaign messages were rarely or never based on factual information.

This larger lack of trust creates a persistent political problem for the president because it automatically colors everything he says before it even comes out of his mouth, no matter the topic. He’s just not a trusted messenger for most Americans, and that makes it hard to credibly drive a message about the issues that voters care about most.

The most glaring example of this dynamic can be seen on the most pressing topic facing the country: the ongoing coronavirus crisis. In September, an ABC News/Ipsos survey revealed that a whopping 68% of Americans do not trust what Trump says about the pandemic. (For comparison, a majority report having a great deal or good amount of trust in Joe Biden’s word on the issue.)

In an election that has been dominated by COVID-19 from the moment it stormed onto the scene earlier this year, it would appear to be important for any aspirant to the Oval Office to be able to muster some kind of message about his plans to combat the virus. And yet, after months of lying about the pandemic, downplaying the threat and actively spreading misinformation, Trump has officially torpedoed his credibility and, in the process, lost the ability to inspire public confidence in his ability to handle this crucial challenge — as well as virtually every other important issue facing the country.

When you can’t credibly talk about the things voters care about most, you end up throwing a bunch of garbage at the wall to see what sticks in a desperate attempt to distract the American people from your multitude of failures. And that’s Donald Trump’s incoherent and ineffective closing argument in a nutshell.

Voters overwhelmingly trust Joe Biden to handle the pressing problems facing our country.

Joe Biden doesn’t have these problems. While Trump continues to find his favorability and job approval numbers deep underwater, Biden is increasingly popular with voters. This election is not a case of Americans feeling forced to choose the “lesser of two evils.” Poll after poll confirms that most folks genuinely like and respect Joe Biden. If anything, the vice president has become even more well-liked in recent weeks as Trump has intensified his desperate attempts to smear him and his family. And you can see that trust and admiration reflected in voters’ widespread preference for him to handle the issues they deem most pressing.

In our latest battleground survey, respondents indicated that they prefer Biden over Trump to handle several of the biggest issues facing the country by large, double-digit margins — including keeping people safe from the coronavirus, making sure people have access to affordable health care, and protecting Social Security and Medicare. And those margins had significantly expanded since our previous poll in August. Even on the economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, an issue that had previously been an area of (relative) strength for Trump in past polls, Biden has closed the gap and now stands on even ground with the president.

While Trump has essentially abandoned any attempt to win over undecided voters and is instead spending the limited time left trafficking in half-baked online conspiracy theories to hype up his most hardcore supporters, our research reveals that Biden’s core message can both persuade and mobilize. We tested a variety of pro-Biden messages in our most recent survey, finding that the top-testing messages resonated with both persuadable voters who had not yet solidified their vote choice and those who were already strong supporters of the vice president.

These broad-based appeals will allow Joe Biden to deliver a coherent and compelling closing argument that will work across audiences — delivering a powerful one-two punch of persuasion and mobilization that should position him to win the presidency when all the votes are counted in the weeks to come.

Only time will tell if Donald Trump’s unhinged carnival barker routine can close the gap — but early returns aren’t promising. Turns out it’s hard to break through when the audience covers their ears every time you open your mouth.

Priorities put Donald Trump on the defensive early — now he’s running out of time…and money. 

So far, Priorities has spent $153 million this cycle on ads in key battleground states. Since July of 2019, Priorities has been talking to voters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Florida about Donald Trump’s failures and his inability to lead. When the coronavirus struck, Priorities held Donald Trump accountable for his inaction and disregard for the health and safety of the American people.

After months of claiming that his billion-dollar campaign would contest states like New Mexico, New Hampshire, and Minnesota, Donald Trump barely has enough money to contest states that he narrowly won in 2016. Joe Biden is now lapping Donald Trump in the money race, with the Biden campaign reporting nearly three times the amount of cash on hand that the Trump campaign reported last week.

In the last month (9/10-10/10), the Biden campaign’s spending was more than double that of the Trump campaign. Donald Trump spent $101.9 million to Joe Biden’s $215.3 million. But where the Trump campaign is spending their money paints an even more dire picture for the sitting president’s electoral prospects. The week of October 7th, Donald Trump spent the most in Florida and Pennsylvania with large buys in Arizona and Michigan as well — all states Donald Trump won in 2016 but have moved toward Biden.

Donald Trump knows he can’t win without Florida, and he’s still playing catch-up in the Sunshine State with only ten days left.

Despite Donald Trump’s heavy spending in core battleground states, pro-Biden entities are still outspending pro-Trump forces: 

Donald Trump has no health care plan — except to take it away from millions. 

Ady Barkan is a health care advocate and living with ALS. Ady is one of the 133 million Americans with pre-existing conditions whose health care coverage would be in jeopardy if Donald Trump successfully destroyed the Affordable Care Act.

In “ACA,” Ady advocates for Joe Biden, who will build on the ACA and expand coverage to even more Americans. Voters in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin are hearing Ady’s story on digital platforms. 

We can build a better future. We need to elect Joe Biden. 

Donald Trump’s failed response to the coronavirus crisis has resulted in over 220,000 deaths and an economy in shambles. Last week, Priorities released “Better Future,” an ad that compares Trump’s disastrous presidency with Joe Biden’s unifying leadership.

Better Future” is airing on TV in key battleground states as part of Priorities’ commitment to spend over $200 million to ensure that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are in the White House next year.