Democracy 2020 Digest: Trump faces fresh political attacks on coronavirus response

Two new national polls show the same thing: a majority of Americans approve of the job President Trump’s doing steering the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump stands at 51 percent approval and 46 percent disapproval in a Fox News national poll conducted March 21-24. And the president's approval rating for his management of the crisis stands at 51-45 percent in an ABC News/Washington Post national survey conducted March 22-25.

THE LATEST FOX NEWS POLLING ON THE CORONAVIRUS

But the Fox News poll indicates Americans are also divided on the Republican incumbent’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, with 45 percent saying he reacted appropriately and 46 percent suggesting Trump didn’t take it seriously.

The survey also shows that a majority of Americans – 53 percent – say the spreading of the virus across the country would have been less if the federal government had acted quicker. Just over a third of those questioned disagreed, saying nothing could have prevented the spread of the pandemic from coast to coast.

And 58 percent polled in the ABC News/Washington Post survey said that the president was “initially too slow to take action to address the problem,” with 38 percent saying Trump “acted with the right amount of speed.”

The polling comes as former Vice President Joe Biden and two outside groups supporting his White House bid are heavily criticizing Trump over his coronavirus response.

Biden – the all-but-certain Democratic presidential nominee -- urged Trump a week ago to “stop saying false things. … People are worried. They are really frightened. And when these things don’t come true, you just exacerbate their concern. Stop saying false things [you] think make you sound like a hero.”

The former vice president also arguing that Trump had repeatedly lied to Americans, saying, “For the first two months of this crisis, President Trump used his public statements to falsely tell us we had nothing to worry about. … Now he’s switched to falsely telling us that he’s taking action he has not taken, promising results he’s not delivered and announcing actions that he not even ordered. And people are scared.”

BIDEN TEMPERS HIS CRITICISM OF TRUMP

Biden tempered his remarks this week, but he continues to take aim at the president’s response to the crisis. And his campaign went up with a brutal video that used comments from the president the past two months downplaying the severity of the outbreak and arguing, “Trump knew. He failed.”

Priorities USA Action – the main super PAC that supported President Obama’s 2012 re-election and Hillary Clinton’s 2016 White House bid – is on the airwaves with a TV commercial that uses audio of the president’s comments and ends with a video clip of Trump saying, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” The ad’s running in key battleground states and the PAC announced on Friday that they’re coming out with a Spanish language version.

Unite the Country, the pro-Biden super PAC, went up this week with a new TV commercial where the narrator says, “Crisis comes to every president. This one failed.” The group says the spot is part of a seven-figure ad buy that will run nationwide on broadcast and cable.

Trump’s reelection campaign is pushing back, repeatedly accusing Biden of trying to politicize the coronavirus crisis.

"By preying upon Americans’ fear amid the coronavirus outbreak, Biden isn’t just playing cheap politics. He’s making the crisis worse. It’s dangerous,” the Trump campaign said. "Biden's Monday morning quarterbacking is an effort to sow anger and division among Americans."

Campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh – responding to the super PAC ads -- spotlighted that "it used to be that Americans faced national adversity with unity, but Joe Biden and his allies have abandoned that principle in favor of rank, despicable politics."

"They offer nothing but partisan sniping from the sidelines and seek to undermine the federal response to the crisis by misinforming and frightening people," he charged.

The Trump campaign – alleging false allegations in both super PAC commercials – unsuccessfully tried to persuade TV stations to refuse to run the spots.

The ads are still running – but could such criticism of Trump backfire on Biden?

Veteran political scientist Wayne Lesperance noted that “Americans tend to rally around the flag during times of crisis. President Trump, who participates in daily briefings, is clearly the beneficiary of that support.”

But Lesperance – vice president of academic affairs at New England College – pointed to the latest polls to emphasize that Trump isn’t enjoying the bump past leaders received during times of crisis.

“The president's current support is faint praise when compared to the support other president's enjoyed in times of national crisis,” Lesperance stressed.  “In the aftermath of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, President George W. Bush enjoyed an 86 percnet approval rating. Eleven years later, following the attacks on 9/11, his son George W. Bush had approval ratings at 90 percent and above. In both cases, public support for those presidents soared. And while President Trump has better than usual marks for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis, his numbers still fall short of his predecessors."

He pointed out that "normally, there is some risk associated with attacking a president during a time of crisis because the nation tends to rally around the president."

But Lesperance explained, "Since this president's numbers, while more positive than negative, have not been as strong, there appears to be less risk with openly criticizing the president's handling of the crisis."

Biden congratulates...Trump?

For the first time, the president on Friday afternoon used the powers granted by the Defense Production Act to compel General Motors to produce ventilators desperately needed by hospitals on the frontlines in the battle against the coronavirus pandemic.

Biden has repeatedly criticized for Trump for not implementing the act since invoking it last week. The Defense Production Act gives the president the authority to mobilize private industry.

But minutes after Trump used the act, Biden gave the president a compliment while on a live virtual roundtable discussion with first responders.

“The good news I just heard about 10 minutes ago ... is that president has just finally implemented the act and he’s ordered GM to make ventilators. That’s really good news. Now we were suggesting he do that over a month ago, but the point is he’s done it and I congratulate him for it,” Biden emphasized.

Tight race in crucial state

A new poll in the key general election battleground state of Michigan shows a close contest between Biden and Trump.

The former vice president stands at 44 percent support among those in Michigan likely to vote in November’s presidential election, with Trump at 41 percent, according to a Marketing Resource Group, LLC survey. Biden’s slight 3-point advantage over the president is within the poll’s plus or minus 4 percentage points margin of error.

The survey was conducted March 16-20.

Michigan’s one of three so-called Rust Belt states – along with Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – that Trump narrowly flipped from blue to red in 2016, which was instrumental in his winning the White House.

Sanders' ‘steep road’ 

Sen. Bernie Sanders admits "it's going to be a very steep road" to mount a comeback and defeat Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination.

But the populist senator from Vermont, in an interview with NPR that was broadcast Friday morning, said he’s still assessing the future of his presidential campaign.

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