WASHINGTON — Suddenly, the political winds of change are blowing across the country, rattling President Trump’s re-election campaign, blocking parts of his agenda and scrambling his administration’s team.
Trump shook up his polling group this week after it had leaked a survey showing him trailing former Vice President Joe Biden by double digits in critical battleground states.
Little less than a week before he was scheduled to hold his first major re-election bid rally in Florida, the president severed his relationship with pollsters Brett Loyd, Mike Baselice and Adam Geller, but retained longtime pollsters Tony Fabrizio and John McLaughlin.
The story was first broken by Politico and then covered by The New York Times, which reported that a 17-state voter survey showed the president trailing Biden in Wisconsin, Florida, Pennsylvania and Michigan — states where the New York billionaire narrowly beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016.
The poll also revealed that Trump was trailing Biden in other key states he had won in 2016, including Georgia, Ohio, North Carolina and Iowa, and clinging only narrowly to a lead in heavily Republican Texas.
The story struck the White House like a bombshell, but Trump publicly declared that it had been entirely made up by the news media, and didn’t “even exist.”
But this time, his own advisers were not willing to stand behind his lies. Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Pascale, later confirmed the story was authentic, and the results came from a campaign poll conducted in March. ABC News ran with the story last week and other newspapers published it this week.
To be fair, Pascale and Fabrizio insisted later that the polling numbers were out-of-date and have since moved upward in the president’s favor.
“The Trump internal campaign data being reported is incomplete and misleading,” Fabrizio said in a statement last week. “The old numbers from March being reported represent a worst-case scenario in the most unfavorable turnout model possible.”
But that explanation sounds like a stretch. Trump’s public approval numbers have long been stuck in the 40 percent range since he was sworn into the presidency.
Most recently, an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll showed his overall approval score at 44 percent. Only “11 percent of Democrats, 17 percent of African Americans, 32 percent of Latinos and 36 percent of women approve of the job Trump is doing as president,” the Washington Post reported Monday.
To be sure, his approval score among Republicans has stayed in the 80 percent range throughout his presidency, but that may not be enough without capturing some of the electoral vote from the politically divided, swing states.
Meantime, in an administration beset by an unending line of high-level resignations, Trump announced this week that acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan, was withdrawing from consideration to be Trump’s secretary of Defense.
Shanahan, whose family has been beset by a number of extraordinary episodes of domestic violence, said he “decided not to go forward with his confirmation process so that he can devote more time to his family.”
It was the second time in six months that the Pentagon was left without its top leader, raising complaints that the administration has not fully vetted its nominees to high-level posts throughout the government.
At the same time, Senate Republican leaders and the administration were engaged in a budget and spending battle that threatened yet another government shutdown and a federal default on its debt payments.
Making matters worse, as Trump struggles to come up with a deal on Capitol Hill, the Federal Reserve Board on Wednesday expressed new concerns about the economy slowing down.
There were growing worries throughout the business community that Trump’s threats of higher trade tariffs on China, Mexico and the European Union were spooking a broad range of business and industry leaders — as some were lowering plans for future investment.
In his speeches and other public remarks, Trump has defined tariffs on imports as a windfall for the Treasury. But that’s not how business leaders see them, calling them a tax on consumers that is hurting the U.S. economy and the global economy.
That led JPMorgan Chase to forecast Monday that there was a 45 percent chance of a recession within the next year, when Trump will be running for re-election.
Donald Lambro has been covering Washington
politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.