Republican pollsters have identified a narrow slice of the electorate who may be persuaded to vote for President Donald Trump, but they're worried he's not trying hard enough to reach them.
Most Americans have already formed entrenched views about the president, but GOP pollsters have found that 36 percent of voters who disapproved of Trump's performance still say they liked some of his policies, reported The Atlantic.
“There are some that may not like his style, but support his policies, and in particular, his economic-nationalist argument,” said Trump pollster John McLaughlin, a veteran of dozens of GOP campaigns. “That’s the persuadable middle. That’s where the votes are.”
Another veteran Republican pollster, Neil Newhouse, echoed those recommendations.
“An issue like this — nationalism — could come into play," Newhouse said. "They may not like everything he’s doing, but they like the way he’s standing up to China.”
However, that nationalist message may not break through to voters who have lost their jobs or fear coronavirus infection, and some potentially persuadable voters just can't overlook their personal distaste for the president.
“You’re the best thing since sliced bread if you agree with him,” said Donald Scoggins, a 74-year-old moderate Republican from Virginia who voted for Trump in 2016. “The minute you don’t agree with him, he tends to denigrate you. That’s not an example we want for our youth.”
Trump may be forced to scapegoat China to deflect blame from himself if the death toll continues to rise and the economy remains moribund, and recent polls have found Americans don't trust what he says about the pandemic and feel the federal government's response was inadequate.
“I’d like him to not be focused on his own personal brand and vendettas,” said one Republican Senate aide. “There’s an opportunity for him to talk more about global economic policy, and it lines up well with what he said on the  campaign. Most people look at China and they don’t like it, because it seems like jobs here are being taken away and everything has moved abroad. China is the poster child of that.”
Republicans are frustrated that Trump seems to be leaving the response up to Congress and the states, and some of them complained that GOP freshman Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) had come out with a more far-reaching plan than anything proposed by the president.
“On substantive plans, there’s been a hole from the White House,” said Doug Heye, a former RNC spokesperson. “Hawley is thinking big thoughts about these things — not just pushing back on China.”
It's difficult to predict what the political landscape will look like in November in the midst of an ongoing pandemic, but Republicans believe the president has two paths to re-election no matter what happens between now and then.
“If people are hopeful that things are going to improve — and people are pissed at China — the president is going to win by a lot,” said one Republican close to Trump’s campaign.