Our nation’s governors and President Donald Trump are in a precarious position politically amid the COVID-19 pandemic with divergent interests pulling them – public health, economic security, and individual liberty.

Congress experiences partisan gridlock over further funding for small businesses while the economy tanks and unemployment claims soar. 

Right now, most Americans support the efforts to social distance and the restrictions that come with it. In early April, President Donald Trump earned his highest approval rating in the Economist/YouGov poll. In a late March Reuters/Ipsos poll, more Americans approved (49 percent) of President Trump’s handling of COVID-19 than disapproved (44 percent). Gallup in late March reported that 49 percent approved of President Trump, and 60 percent approved his handling of COVID-19.

Earlier this month, three national polls showed that Americans approved of their governor’s handling of COVID-19, but did not approve of Trump’s handling of COVID-19.  Politico/Morning Consult showed 61 percent of Americans approved of their governor, while 31 percent disapproved. The same poll showed Trump underwater with 40 percent approval and 54 percent disapproval.

In Monmouth’s poll, 72 percent approved of their governor, while 21 percent disapproved. In the same poll, Trump was underwater again, with 46 approving his performance while 49 disapproved. With the Quinnipiac poll, 74 percent approved of their governor while 24 percent approved compared to Trump, who saw only 46 percent approval and 51 percent disapproval. 

Pandemic or not, we have an election in November. 

President Donald Trump

His re-election largely hinges on the economy. COVID-19 turned that messaging upside down. It will take more than a few months to recover from the economic shut-down, especially if states keep businesses closed into May and June. A bad economy has historically hurt the incumbent. 

Trump is going to have to convince Americans that he led during this crisis, but the longer this goes on, the harder that will probably be, and he’ll start to lose his base. If he relaxes recommendations too soo, and we see a spike, he will be blamed. He is caught between some who believe he’s not taking public health experts seriously and those who call Dr. Anthony Fauci, “President Fauci.” 

Former Vice President Joe Biden

Joe who? One of Biden’s challenges during the COVID-19 crisis is to remain relevant. Trump and the nation’s governors are in the spotlight and receiving all of the press. With the pandemic making such an impact on our day to day lives, COVID-19 overshadows Biden.

He walks a fine line between struggling to be relevant while not coming across as a partisan hack in time of crisis. 

Governors 

The nation’s governors currently enjoy a solid approval rating. That’s likely not to last. A lousy economy also hurts them. Those who are not up for re-election in November will have some time to rebound. Moreover, states with the highest level of restriction will see more pushback. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, saw thousands protest her draconian stay-at-home order in Lansing. I think that’s just the beginning.

On the flip side, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who, to her credit, has attempted to implement mitigation protocols through the least restrictive means, faces a major outbreak with employees at the Smithfield Foods facility. 

Challengers

It is difficult to topple incumbents; it will likely be even harder in this environment. Having to campaign online with small groups of people watching provides an additional challenge. While things will open up down the road, we still don’t know the future of things like significant multi-candidate political events, fundraisers, etc.

Also, I’m doubtful anyone will crow about their 2nd quarter fundraising numbers. That will hurt challengers more than incumbents who went into this pandemic with a war chest. 

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