President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order establishing regulatory reform officers and task forces in US agencies in Washington, DC on February 24, 2017.
Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images

In response to discouraging polls, Trump concocts conspiracy theory

Updated

It’s hard to blame Donald Trump for feeling discouraged by the latest 2020 polls. The president is struggling in battleground states; his internal polls are reportedly “devastating”; and the latest national polls suggest, at least for now, that the Republican is likely to lose next year.

Indeed, a Quinnipiac poll released yesterday afternoon showed Trump trailing six leading Democratic contenders in hypothetical general election match-ups, with former Vice President Joe Biden leading the incumbent by 13 points.

Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said, “It’s a long 17 months to Election Day, but Joe Biden is ahead by landslide proportions.”

During a brief Q&A with reporters at the White House yesterday, Trump suggested that polls he doesn’t like should be seen as “fake.” On Twitter this morning, the president elaborated on the subject.

“The Fake News has never been more dishonest than it is today. Thank goodness we can fight back on Social Media. Their new weapon of choice is Fake Polling, sometimes referred to as Suppression Polls (they suppress the numbers). Had it in 2016, but this is worse.

“The Fake (Corrupt) News Media said they had a leak into polling done by my campaign which, by the way and despite the phony and never ending Witch Hunt, are the best numbers WE have ever had. They reported Fake numbers that they made up & don’t even exist. WE WILL WIN AGAIN!”

If you saw this on Twitter and the missives disappeared soon after, it’s because Trump originally misspelled “their.” He deleted the original tweets and then republished them soon after without the typo.

Regardless, what strikes me as amazing about the president’s approach is that he has better alternatives, but he chooses to ignore them and go with the worst of his rhetorical options.

Trump could credibly argue, “The polls in 2016 suggested I’d lose, but I won anyway, so take the latest results with a grain of salt.” This would have the benefit of being true.

He could also say, “It’s far too early to get worked up about polls. The campaign hasn’t started; we have no idea who the Democratic nominee is going to be; so I’m focusing on governing.” This, too, would be a sensible tack, rooted in reality.

But, no. Confronted with inauspicious polling data, Trump instinctively concludes that pollsters and major news organizations have hatched an elaborate conspiracy to undermine him.

Even when he has smarter and better alternatives, the president’s go-to move is to present himself as a victim of nefarious forces out to get him, indifferent to how ridiculous the conspiracy theory sounds.

As a tactical matter, such a posture may even be counter-productive: Trump has signaled to his followers that survey data should be ignored, and polls that show him trailing are inherently untrustworthy. It may very well signal to the Republican base that they need not worry about the state of the race, even in the face of evidence that suggests they should.