Faced with declining poll numbers in multiple swing states, Donald Trump's 2020 campaign strategists are gearing up for a full-throated assault on China as the cause of the COVID-19 crisis that has shut the country down in the hopes that it will be a winning issue for voters unhappy with his bungling response that has led to over 65,000 U.S. deaths so far.
According to a report from Politico, the change in election strategy began weeks ago as millions lost their jobs as the country shut down to stem the spread of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
"President Donald Trump’s decision to focus his coronavirus anger on China, America’s top economic rival, is part of a pivot for Trump’s reelection team as it scrambles to revise a campaign message that had been focused on financial prosperity," the report notes. "Now, with the economy in a coronavirus-induced coma, Trump’s team is working to instead make the 2020 race a referendum on who will be tougher on China — Trump or Joe Biden."
"Polls conducted for the Trump campaign and Republican senators show China will be an effective issue for Republicans in November, according to three people who have seen the numbers, leading the GOP to buy a flurry of TV and Facebook ads, dash off emails to supporters and increase their tough rhetoric," the report states, however, longtime pollster Frank Luntz claims the issue may not be so cut and dried with voters.
“The question pollsters can't answer right now is whether this helps Trump or Biden,” Luntz explained “More precisely, both candidates will be criticized for past and current comments they've made. It's not clear which candidate will be hurt more by China.”
What may cripple the president's anti-China campaign rhetoric will likely be his ongoing commentary over almost 4 years about America's leading trading partner.
"Biden and the Democrats, too, think focusing on China will lift their chances in November," the report notes. "They’re criticizing Trump for initially praising the country’s response to the pandemic and accusing him of caring more about his trade deal with China than American lives. The Democratic group American Bridge just launched an ad accusing Trump of trusting China."
"For his part, Trump has wavered repeatedly on China’s culpability for the pandemic. He initially praised the country and its leader, President Xi Jinping, more than a dozen times in the early days of the outbreak, often stressing the recent trade deal the two countries had signed," Politico's Anita Kumar reports. "Trump later reversed course, though, and started excoriating the country for its handling of the virus. The pivot came as Trump faced criticism that he initially downplayed the outbreak and failed to quickly produce and ship tests and medical supplies to states. America has now passed 1 million coronavirus cases, with more than 60,000 people dying from the disease."
According to one Democratic lawmaker, Trump's China gambit may fall flat on its face.
“He understands his presidency rises and falls on the very pandemic he denied was a pandemic and he is desperate to try to counteract the narrative that has set in that he wasn’t up to the job,” explained Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA). “That’s a devastating critique. You don’t get re-elected with that narrative.”
The report goes on to note that many Republicans still believe it will be a winning message.
"In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is encouraging medical companies to stop doing business with China and has explored divesting the state’s interests out of China. He wants everyone to know he’s tough on China — just like Trump," the report states with DeSantis claiming, "I have not forgotten about China. In fact, some of you guys may want to look this up, but there was a Chinese Communist Party think tank that did a report in February, and they analyzed the governors in the United States — who was hardline, who was friendly and who was unknown. There were five governors that were hardline against China. Where do you think I was?”
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