The New York Times just dropped a brutal story reporting that President Donald Trump is instructing his aides to lie about his poor standing in internal polls. And a new poll just made their job much more difficult.
Quinnipiac University has for the first time conducted national head-to-head polls matching up Trump and some of the leading Democratic presidential hopefuls. None of the matchups is good for Trump.
Trump trails all six by between five and 13 points, with Joe Biden holding the biggest advantage and lesser-known candidates - Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg - holding the smallest leads.
The findings, importantly, mirror the limited head-to-head polling we've seen in some key early states, with Trump trailing by as much as double digits in crucial Michigan and Pennsylvania, and even trailing Biden in Texas(!) in another Quinnipiac poll. Trump also trails in most national head-to-heads, although often not by as much as Quinnipiac indicates.
As with all polling at this early a juncture, it should not be used to predict any outcomes. Things can and will change. Biden, most notably, remains very popular from his time as vice president, and few analysts expect he'll be able to maintain that for an entire campaign.
But these polls are beginning to paint a pretty unified picture of Trump's current political standing as the 2020 race lurches to a start, and it's decidedly not a strong one. If there's one thing the last two years have shown us, it's that Trump's political standing hasn't changed much.
The Times reports that this has begun to register with Trump, so much that he's instructed aides to pretend the polls don't say what they do:
"After being briefed on a devastating 17-state poll conducted by his campaign pollster, Tony Fabrizio, Mr. Trump told aides to deny that his internal polling showed him trailing Mr. Biden in many of the states he needs to win, even though he is also trailing in public polls from key states like Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania. And when top-line details of the polling leaked, including numbers showing the president lagging in a cluster of critical Rust Belt states, Mr. Trump instructed aides to say publicly that other data showed him doing well."
As ominous as the general election matchups in the new Quinnipiac poll are some of the other questions it posed. For instance, the majority of the country (7 in 10 people) regards the economy as good - a finding that would appear to be Trump's ace in the hole. But just 41% say it's good while crediting Trump for that. Among independents, 6 in 10 either say the economy is not good or that Trump deserves no credit. Just 34% think it's good, thanks to Trump.
Trump also trails each Democrat among independents by at least 15 points, so even if you think the sample is off in some way, that's a pretty grim starting point. Trump won independents in 2016, according to exit polls, by four points. He trails Biden among them by 30 points.
Trump was asked about the Times report and his standing in the poll shortly before the Quinnipiac poll published Tuesday, and all he could muster is that there is a Rasmussen poll showing him at 50% approval. Rasmussen has frequently been Trump's best poll, with no other pollster consistently mirroring its numbers.
Asked whether he instructed aides to lie about the polls, Trump said: "I never do. My poll numbers are great. The amazing thing is all I do is get hit by this phony witch hunt."
He went on to decry the public polls showing him trailing as "fake polls" that are meant to suppress votes, which isn't how push polling works. (There is no sense in suppressing votes 17 months before an election.)
What’s clear is that Trump was worried about his polls before Tuesday, and now he must be even more worried. It’s beginning to look like if the Democrats can avoid their candidate being torn apart by the primary process and then Trump, they’re in a really good position to start.
Aaron Blake is a senior political reporter, writing for The Fix. A Minnesota native, he has also written about politics for the Minneapolis Star Tribune and The Hill newspaper.
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