The Current

As pandemic plays out, Trump sowing mischief and mistrust around re-election bid, says David Frum

Author David Frum says the 'massive economic damage' of COVID-19 could have an impact on Trump's re-election bid, but that doesn't mean Democrat Joe Biden is a certain winner.

COVID-19's 'massive economic damage' could affect Trump's re-election bid: Frum

U.S. President Donald Trump's tweets about voter fraud are 'preparing a possibility of mistrust,' says former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

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COVID-19 will have an impact on the U.S. presidential election, but not because of the virus itself, says David Frum, former White House speechwriter under U.S. President George W. Bush.

"The vast majority of white Americans do not know anyone who has been affected by the virus," said Frum, senior editor at The Atlantic, and author of new book Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy.

"In the parts of the country where Donald Trump has support... people just say 'This is nothing to do with me.'"

What is affecting those voters and potentially the November election is "the massive economic damage," he told The Current's Matt Galloway. 

"People are losing their jobs, they are losing their businesses, and that fact is hugely consequential."

U.S. sees highest unemployment since Great Depression

3 years ago
Duration 2:00
Twenty million Americans lost their job in April due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Among them, African Americans and Hispanics are hardest hit.

More than 40 million Americans have sought unemployment benefits since the pandemic began 10 weeks ago. On Wednesday, the U.S. death toll from the virus passed 100,000. 

Trump has faced criticism for how the pandemic has been handled, including from his predecessor Barack Obama, who called it an "absolute chaotic disaster."

"The pandemic wasn't his fault, but the response to the pandemic, that was his decision," Frum said. 

"The United States has been very much at the top of the scale of the worst-performing countries, and people notice that."

Responding to the economic crisis, Trump has said his presidency built the greatest economy anywhere in the world, and he'll do it again.

Frum argued that the rate of U.S. growth under Trump is "exactly the same as it was in the last three years of Barack Obama."

Trump "was the rooster who took credit for the sunrise and now he's upset to be blamed for the sunset," he said.

Trump's tweets are seen on Tuesday. Twitter for the first time prompted readers to check the facts in tweets posted by Trump, warning his claims about mail-in ballots were false and had been debunked by fact-checkers. (AFP via Getty Images)

Tweets preparing 'possibility of mistrust'

On Tuesday, Trump tweeted that mail-in ballots for the November election would be "substantially fraudulent" and result in a "rigged election." Later that day, Twitter added a blue exclamation mark and link to his tweet, prompting readers to "get the facts about mail-in ballots."

The company confirmed it was the first time a tweet from the president had received a fact-check notification, under its new "misleading information" policy.

Frum said that by tweeting about the possibility of voter fraud, Trump is "soothing his own ego" and attempting to explain away poor performances in polls.

But by spreading the idea of voter fraud, he's also "preparing a possibility of mistrust."

"If the vote is decisive enough, then the mischief won't work," Frum said. 

"But if this thing comes down to a few tens of thousands of ballots in a few states, as it did in 2016, the mischief might matter."

The pandemic was not Trump's fault, but the way the U.S. has handled it 'was his decision,' Frum said. (Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images)

Democrats 'coalesced' around Biden

Frum said that Democrats have "coalesced around Joe Biden" as the nominee to challenge Trump in November, but that shouldn't be seen as cohesive harmony.

"The price of coalescing around him is a lot of important issues for the future are being buried right now, and they will resurface should Joe Biden win," he said.

He said the Democrat party itself is diverse, with people holding different views on things like free trade and social justice issues.

Some voters who supported Bernie Sanders — who conceded and endorsed Biden in early April — feel the Democrats aren't left-wing enough, while other voters would be turned off by any move in that direction, he said.

Supporters of Bernie Sanders cheer as they wait for a rally to begin March 5 in Phoenix. Sanders conceded and endorsed Joe Biden as the Democrat's presidential nominee in early April. (The Associated Press)

Biden's campaign could alienate one group by trying to appeal to the other, Frum warned, and lose "a lot of the people's votes they're going to need."

In the 2018 midterm elections, the Democrats took control of the House of Representatives "not by winning extra seats in San Francisco and Brooklyn — they already have all of those," Frum said.

"They won the election by turning seats in conservative-leaning suburbs, relying on the votes of conservative-leaning people, especially women," he said.

"If Joe Biden wins the presidency, it's those same voters — largely, but not entirely women — who will put him in the presidency too."

That doesn't mean Biden is a surefire winner, Frum said: "It is always possible to lose an election through your mistakes."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.

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