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Analysis: Trump is considering a new response to the recent protests. Is it too late?
Last week, President Donald Trump oversaw the use of teargas against peaceful protesters and urged governors to “dominate the streets” as he threatened to deploy soldiers to quell the police brutality protests sweeping the nation.
But now, he is reportedly being advised to shift his response to the demonstrations and adopt a more unifying tone.
According to Axios, Trump’s top political advisers gathered at his campaign headquarters on Thursday — their first such meeting of the 2020 cycle — and agreed that the president “needs to add more hopeful, optimistic and unifying messages to balance his harsh law-and-order rhetoric.”
While it is unclear if Trump will ultimately adopt their advice, or for how long — he has supposedly been in the midst of similar messaging “pivots” before, only to revert to type — an olive branch to the protesters could come as soon as this week.
Per CNN, White House officials are considering a plan for Trump to “address the nation this week on issues related to race and national unity,” hoping to rectify what many of them seen as his initially “fumble” in response to the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man, in Minneapolis.
But, two weeks after Floyd’s death and a deluge of demonstrations later, is it too late for Trump to change track?
Already struggling in the polls against likely Democratic rival Joe Biden, the recent national unrest seems to have damaged the president’s re-election prospects even further.
Major polls released in the past week have found Biden leading Trump by 7% (NBC/WSJ and NPR/PBS), 10% (ABC/WaPo), 11% (Monmouth), and 14% (CNN) among registered voters nationally. Other recent surveys have painted a similarly grim picture for the president in key battleground states.
According to the NPR/PBS poll, 67% of Americans say Trump has “mostly increased racial tensions” amid the recent protests. According to Monmouth, more voters have confidence in Biden’s ability to handle race relations by a 12-point margin.
And, in the NBC/WSJ poll, a whopping 80% of registered voters say “that things are generally out of control” in the United States under Trump’s watch — a damning revelation about voter attitudes as the country careens between a pandemic, an economic crisis, and protests over civil rights.
Just as he is hoping for an economic revival after the coronavirus outbreak (and, in Friday’s job numbers, saw evidence that one is emerging), Trump needs to wage an unprecedented political comeback to win a second term, as Biden enters the general election campaign with one of the strongest leads for any presidential challenger since the dawn of scientific polling.
However, such a comeback doesn’t to be materializing. As Biden formally clinched the Democratic nomination last week, Trump was wrestling with a new round of criticism from officials within his own party.
As the New York Times reported, marquee Republican leaders like former President George W. Bush and Utah Sen. Mitt Romney have already decided against backing Trump in 2020, while others like former House Speakers Paul Ryan and John Boehner refused to commit either way. Colin Powell, Bush's former Secretary of State, endorsed Biden in a CNN interview on Sunday, explaining that Trump had “drifted away” from the Constitution. (Powell also backed Democratic presidential nominees in 2008, 2012, and 2016; Bush, Romney, and Ryan did not vote for Trump four years ago.)
Another Republican senator, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, said last week that she is “struggling” with whether to support the president, as she echoed criticisms of Trump's response to the Floyd protests leveled by his own onetime aides, former Defense Secretary James Mattis and former White House chief of staff John Kelly.
The flood of defections from his own camp comes as Trump is wrestling with his re-election messaging: according to the Washington Post, the president has struggled to define his second presidential campaign, especially after the “booming economy that he assumed would be his chief argument for reelection has foundered for the moment.”
Those poll numbers, GOP critics, and messaging struggles are the backdrop as the president could potentially attempt to soften his rhetoric surrounding racial tensions.
But if another “pivot” is in the offing, it has yet to arrive today: while Biden treks to Houston to meet with Floyd's family members, Trump will meet with law enforcement officers in a White House roundtable.
And his first public statements of the week didn't seem to betray a more unifying tone, as he praised law enforcement and criticized the protesters' new rallying cry on Twitter this morning.
“LAW & ORDER, NOT DEFUND AND ABOLISH THE POLICE,” Trump declared. “The Radical Left Democrats have gone Crazy!
In another missive, he called CNN's new poll "fake," while promoting one number from it: his 96% approval rating among Republicans.
The president did not mention that his approval rating among all voters had slipped to 38%, its lowest point in a year and a half. As CNN noted, that puts Trump's approval rating “roughly on par with approval ratings for Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush at this point in their reelection years.” Neither received a second term.
LATEST PROTESTS: “Thousands of protesters gathered in Washington, D.C., on Saturday for its largest demonstration yet over George Floyd’s death in police custody, a capstone on a defining week for a city — and nation — that has grappled with widespread outrage over racial injustice, police brutality and the politics accompanying them.”
“Demonstrators from about a dozen separate protests marched along normally bustling thoroughfares toward the White House through a large swath of downtown cordoned off by police, in what was D.C.’s largest assembled crowd since the Women’s March against President Donald Trump after his inauguration in 2017.” (Politico)
--- One notable attendee: “Mitt Romney, marching with evangelicals, becomes first GOP senator to join George Floyd protests in D.C.” (Washington Post)
--- Law enforcement presence: “National Guard moving out of DC as questions remain about how military handled George Floyd protests” (Military Times)
POLICE REFORM: “Across the country, calls to defund, downsize or abolish police departments are gaining new traction after national unrest following the death of George Floyd, a black man who died after a white police officer pressed a knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes on a busy Minneapolis street.”
“On Wednesday, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles announced that he would cut as much as $150 million from a planned increase in the Police Department’s budget. And in New York, Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, and Daniel Dromm, a council member from Queens, vowed even before the latest protests to cut the Police Department’s $6 billion budget, which they noted had been left almost untouched even as education and youth programs faced steep cuts.”
--- In the city where Floyd was killed: “Minneapolis City Council members intend to defund and dismantle the city’s police department” (CNN)
--- At the Capitol: “House Democrats to unveil police reform bill amid nationwide protests” (CBS News)
--- Trump mulls a plan of his own: “White House entertains police reform” (Axios)
--- Reality check: “Protesters hope this is a moment of reckoning for American policing. Experts say not so fast.” (Washington Post)
MEDIAWATCH: “The New York Times’ editorial page editor resigned Sunday after the newspaper disowned an opinion piece by U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton that advocated using federal troops to quell unrest, and it was later revealed he hadn’t read the piece prior to publication.”
...“The fallout was swift after the Arkansas Republican’s piece was posted online late Wednesday. It caused a revolt among Times journalists, with some saying it endangered black employees and calling in sick on Thursday in protest.” (Associated Press)
--- Meanwhile: “The top Philadelphia Inquirer editor resigned after facing backlash for publishing ‘Buildings Matter, Too’ headline” (Business Insider)
--- Recommended read on the inflection point in media: “Inside the Revolts Erupting in America’s Big Newsrooms” (New York Times)
Correction: In Monday's newsletter, the number of jobs added in the United States in May was incorrectly printed due to a typo. The correct number was 2.5 million.
*All times Eastern
President Donald Trump will have lunch with Vice President Mike Pence at 1 p.m. and participate in a roundtable with law enforcement officers at 3 p.m.
Vice President Mike Pence will lead a video teleconference with governors on COVID-19 response and economic revival at 11 a.m. and then join President Trump for 1 p.m. lunch and the 3 p.m. law enforcement roundtable.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany will hold a press briefing at 2 p.m.
The Senate will convene at 3 p.m. and vote to advance the Great American Outdoors Act at 5:30 p.m.
The House will meet for a brief pro forma session at 9 a.m.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus will hold a press conference at 10:30 a.m. to unveil their new police reform legislation.
The Supreme Court will release orders from its Friday conference at 9:30 a.m. and opinions at 10 a.m.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden and his wife Jill Biden will meet with the family of George Floyd in Houston, Texas.
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