Who could have predicted that the most reliable bloc of voters in this country would also be the most likely to die from COVID-19? Not Donald Trump, apparently. The New York Times reports that “the coronavirus and the Trump administration’s response to it have cost President Trump support from one of his most crucial constituencies: America’s seniors.”
As anyone with two functional brain cells to rub together ought to have figured out that the quality of the administration’s response (or lack thereof) to what is becoming the worst public health crisis in American history matters most of all to the group of people whose heads are on the chopping block if it fails. The nation’s oldest citizens are now rendering their verdict on Trump’s miserable performance, and the news for the former reality-TV star is not good.
It is good news for Democrats.
A recent Morning Consult poll found that Mr. Trump’s approval rating on the handling of the coronavirus was lower with seniors than with any other group other than young voters. And Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee, in recent polls held a 10-point advantage among voters who are 65 and older. A poll commissioned by the campaign showed a similar double-digit gap.
The senior vote was more than critical to Trump’s success in 2016: It was absolutely essential. Once that vote starts to wane, there is precious little Mr. Trump can do to win it back. As Democratic strategist Geoff Garin told The New York Times, “If there’s a durable change with older voters, it could well cost Trump the election.”
For years, Republicans and Mr. Trump have relied on older Americans, the country’s largest voting bloc, to offset a huge advantage Democrats enjoy with younger voters. In critical states like Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Florida, all of which have large older populations, Mr. Trump’s advantage with older voters has been essential to his political success; in 2016, he won voters over the age of 65 by seven percentage points, according to national exit poll data.
It’s perhaps trite to point out that seniors have long memories—some going back to the Great Depression—but what they see before them now is unlike anything that even the oldest among us ever imagined. The Times notes that the trend of disapproval among elder Americans accelerated when Trump revealed his true nature during his now-infamous daily coronavirus “press briefings.” Perhaps too it was easier to overlook the gaping character flaws in Trump’s personality while retirement portfolios were expanding, but when the subject of his unhinged rants became their own mortality, many older Americans apparently began to sit up and finally take notice.
Trump’s “team” is aware of his falling prospects, which is why they have attempted to highlight meaningless symbolic actions such as naming the month of May “Older Americans Month.” But as now fully one-third of all COVID-19 deaths are to those “older Americans” who either live or work in nursing homes and similar facilities, those blessed with this distinction are probably less concerned with being recognized by Donald Trump and more concerned with staying alive to celebrate Pride Month in June.
Trump’s statements about cutting Social Security benefits in the midst of a deadly pandemic also have not endeared him to seniors. This is an area where, as The Times notes, the Democrats already have an edge over Trump.
In Mr. Biden, however, Mr. Trump is also competing against a candidate whom many older voters view as an appealing alternative to Mr. Trump in a way that they never viewed Mrs. Clinton in 2016, strategists in both parties said. Mr. Biden’s campaign officials credit his appeal with older voters to their view of him as a moderate, politically, and as a compassionate person who has suffered his own string of personal tragedies.
The real concern of these voters is something far more pragmatic than any theoretical, political debate about Social Security. These people are simply scared, and more and more they see an administration that seems to be doing its level best to kill them. Seniors aren’t terribly interested in going out to bars or tattoo parlors, and while they miss going to restaurants and their hairstylists, they also know by now that doing so involves a dance with death, specifically death to themselves.
Trump essentially pivoted from his self-destructive “press briefings” to something far more serious, as far as seniors are concerned—his insistence on opening up the economy even while infection rates continue to explode across the country. If the administration and its Republican collaborators in “red state” legislatures and governor’s mansions continue to heedlessly and recklessly force the premature “reopening” of businesses before these citizens feel safe, the spike in deaths that will certainly follow will be impossible to ignore.
Older people know when their friends, relatives and spouses are dying all around them. In fact, they’re acutely conscious of it, and understandably so. They know exactly why there are special hours now reserved for them at the grocery stores and the pharmacies they visit every week. No amount of happy talk from politicians is going to obscure the fact that people they know and love are sick, and they are dying. For that reason alone, the second wave of COVID-19 deaths that we are likely to see in late summer and early fall—exposing thee monstrous folly of “reopening” too soon—should, and likely will, prove to be the final nail in the political coffin of Donald John Trump.