“He has been spoiled with his successes, but I’m not sure it is the same atmosphere as it was in 2016,” said one Republican close to the White House. “The problem is when he gets off on the tangents on the Confederate flag. I’m not here to defend that.”
Several Republican strategists said reviving cultural wars and making not-so-subtle nods to Confederate sympathizers is not a way to mobilize the voters outside of Trump’s hardcore base. Trump has also leaned hard into arguments that Michael Flynn, his first national security adviser, was duped by the deep state into lying to the FBI, and allegations that presumptive 2020 rival Joe Biden’s family is corrupt.
“People do not care about Michael Flynn or Biden’s kids,” says Ed Rollins, chair of the Pro-Trump Great America PAC and former national campaign director for President Ronald Reagan’s successful 1984 campaign. “Those issues are complicated. People care about whether you can lead the country through these two crises of a pandemic and a recession.”
“I thought when the virus broke out and the economy fell apart, it gave Trump an opportunity to step up and show what kind of leader he could be, but he certainly did not do it well,” Rollins added. “If we are sitting here on Labor Day with these polling numbers, we will not turn it around.”