A stretch of lackluster polling for President Trump has some Republican operatives nervous about the president’s reelection prospects in November – with some even floating the possibility for the first time that Trump could drop out if his poll numbers don’t rebound.
“It’s too early, but if the polls continue to worsen, you can see a scenario where he drops out,” one GOP operative who asked to remain anonymous told Fox News.
“I’ve heard the talk but I doubt it’s true,” another said. “My bet is, he drops if he believes there’s no way to win.”
Trump’s poll numbers in recent weeks have trended downward amid criticism over his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the White House's response to the protests and riots following the death of George Floyd in late May while in Minneapolis police custody.
A recent Fox News poll had the president trailing Democrat Joe Biden by 12 points, while a RealClearPolitics average of polls had Trump down almost 10 points to the former vice president. Biden also was leading Trump in many key battleground states, and polls from Republican strongholds such as Texas had Trump and Biden neck and neck.
Polls in the past, however, have been way off the mark.
In 2016, Trump trailed Hillary Clinton in almost all the polls leading up to the general election before pulling off his surprise win. The president also already has weathered numerous controversies during his term in office and came away largely unscathed, at least among his base of supporters, according to analysts.
The Trump campaign adamantly denied that the president would drop out of the race and criticized polling for allegedly undersampling Republican voters.
“This is the granddaddy of fake news,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh told Fox News. “Everyone knows that media polling has always been wrong about President Trump – they undersample Republicans and don’t screen for likely voters – in order to set false narratives. It won’t work. There was similar fretting in 2016 and if it had been accurate, Hillary Clinton would be in the White House right now.”
After the latest spate of polls, his campaign released a memo on Sunday essentially refuting the claims that the president’s reelection chances were in trouble. The campaign cited polling that showed a lack of enthusiasm for Biden, especially in key battleground states, and called into question the methodology used in major polls.
“As was the case in 2016, the mainstream news media is relying on polling financed by their own operations and others, released publicly in order to set a narrative that conforms with their own worldviews,” the campaign stated. “The president’s campaign has repeatedly called into question the validity of such polling, based on methodology, party representation in the sample, wording of questions, and other factors.”
It continued: “These are legitimate criticisms, as there are real differences between public polling and proprietary internal polling such as the campaign conducts for itself.”
With the 2020 general election still more than four months away, GOP insiders and Trump campaign staff have been aiming to turn the streak of bad polling around by directing their aim at what they saw as Biden’s main weaknesses.
The Trump campaign recently has tried to lure Biden back on the campaign trail in the hopes that he will make gaffes on the stump. They also were slamming Biden as “soft” on China, questioning his mental acuity and saying he’d be beholden to the left of his party if he were to win the White House.
“Joe Biden is the weakest Democrat candidate in a generation and we are defining him that way,” Murtaugh said. “By contrast, President Trump built the best economy in the world before the global pandemic interrupted it and he’s doing it a second time. Joe Biden would be a disaster economically and would raise taxes and impose crushing Green New Deal regulations on job creators.”
He added: “We are four months from Election Day, and in the end, it will be a clear choice between President Trump’s incredible record of achievement and Joe Biden’s half-century of failure in Washington, D.C.”
The string of polls came on the heels of Trump’s rally last weekend in Tulsa, Okla. – the president’s first rally since the coronavirus shut down much of the country three months ago.
The Trump campaign had touted that 1 million people had requested tickets – and was predicting a sold-out arena with an additional 40,000 supporters in a makeshift overflow site outside the venue. But, the crowds failed to materialize, the outdoor stage was dismantled and cameras showed large portions of the arena’s upper deck were empty.
The developments had some of the president’s top supporters ringing alarm bells.
“President Trump may lose this election,” Fox News host Tucker Carlson tweeted, hours after the release of his network's polls.
Carlson’s tweet linked to a video from his Thursday night primetime program, as he kicked off his show warning that “not many people are saying it out loud on the right, but the fact is that President Trump could well lose this election. In fact, unless fundamental facts change soon, it could be tough for him to be re-elected.”
Longtime Republican strategist Colin Reed told Fox News, “You can dismiss one poll, but this is pretty consistent across the board.”
He also noted, “One of Donald Trump’s biggest political liabilities right now used to be one of his greatest strengths – his ability to dominate news cycles and headlines.”
Reed noted that “for Trump to turn this around, he just needs to successfully prosecute Joe Biden’s four-and-a-half decades in elected office. If this election’s a choice between Joe Biden and Donald Trump, there’s a long way to go until November. If it’s a referendum on Donald Trump, Joe Biden’s looking like he’s in a pretty good spot.”
David Tamasi, an influential D.C.-based lobbyist and GOP donor who’s raised money for the president, told Fox News, however, that a lot could change between now and Elections Day. “On the money side, I haven’t seen any dropoff. If the election were held today, I think it would certainly be a lot closer than what the public polls say right now,” he said.
And, pointing to the calendar, he emphasized, “We have a long way to go. I’m not overly concerned at this point where things are.”
Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report.