First, Trump, the king of powerfully simplistic political branding, no longer seems to have a message. In 2016 he had his four pillars of immigration, trade, Obamacare and corruption. He had slogans that were effective: “Make America Great Again,” “Build the Wall.” Quick, what’s Trump’s message in 2020? Nothing really leaps out. There is no Trump legislative agenda on Capitol Hill…

In 2016, Trump had a clear and concise line of attack against Hillary Clinton: She was a corrupt member of the Washington establishment and he was going to send her to jail if he became president. He discussed the alleged perfidy of her deleting personal emails with impressive discipline. But Biden has proven to be a more elusive target. Sometimes he is “Sleepy Joe.” Other times he’s a dangerous radical. At this point in the campaign in 2016, Clinton had become a despised figure among Trump’s hardcore supporters. Those supporters in 2020 can’t seem to muster the same amount of antipathy for the former vice president.

Finally, and most important, Trump in 2020 is burdened with a record, one that has sunk him into chronic unpopularity for several years now, even during the height of his economic boom. Trump was not the first American politician to successfully win an election by casting himself as a populist outsider taking on the corrupt establishment. That playbook is as old as the republic.