WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Whip John Thune sounded the alarm Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s support among independent voters was “soft,” urging a change in strategy in light of a New York Times survey that showed the president trailing Democrat Joe Biden by double digits.
The Times/Siena national poll found Biden winning 50 percent of registered voters, with Trump winning 36 percent. Among independents, Biden led by a substantial 18 points.
“Right now, obviously Trump has a problem with the middle of the electorate, with independents, and they’re the people who are undecided in national elections,” Thune, R-S.D., told reporters in the Capitol. “I think he can win those back, but it’ll probably require not only a message that deals with substance and policy but I think a message that conveys, perhaps, a different tone.”
In 2016, Trump won independent voters by 6 points, according to exit polls compiled by NBC News.
Asked if the latest numbers were a wake-up call for the Trump campaign, Thune said, “it’s a message that there needs to be a — certainly a change in probably strategy as far as the White House’s messaging is concerned.”
Thune said Trump could boost Republican Senate candidates if he’d “perform better in terms of his own standing with the voters.” He added that the president is “in a bit of a low point right now, but as we all know in politics in a short amount of time things can change.”
The remarks are a rare public admission from a senior Republican that Trump is struggling politically in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has slammed the brakes on the economy, as well as the nationwide backlash to George Floyd’s death in police custody, which has elevated the issue of race relations.
Trump’s performance this fall will affect not only the presidential race but also his party’s prospects of retaining control of the Senate and its dwindling hopes or recapturing the House majority.
Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh denied last week that the president was an underdog.
“President Trump has always been in a strong position,” he said on Fox News, “and remains so today.”
In recent weeks, Biden has led Trump by 12 points in a Fox News poll, by 8 points in a Quinnipiac poll and by 14 points in a CNN poll. The Democrat has also led in most recent surveys of key battlegrounds such as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida and Arizona. A new Wisconsin poll released Wednesday by Marquette Law School found Biden leading Trump by 8 points, more than doubling his advantage since May in that pivotal state.
The Times poll found Trump’s job approval rating nationally at 41 percent.
While Americans approved of his handling of the economy by a net 5 points, he received poor scores on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic (with disapproval outweighing approval by 20 points), race relations (a net negative 28 points), and the Floyd protests (net negative 33 points).
Thune said Wednesday that with Biden staying mostly out of sight, “it’s Trump versus Trump.” He noted that the presidential debates have yet to happen, “but at the moment, at least, we’re in a period where his numbers, particularly among independent voters, are soft.”
Julie Tsirkin contributed.