If something doesn't shift very soon, President Donald Trump's political story could end like that of a privileged heir who blew all of a fat inheritance on careless investments and whims.
By the usual measures, Trump should look like the favorite right now in the presidential race. A former Democrat, he's had most of a term in power to reach out and settle party divisions after a dramatic election win. He declared war on the pandemic, which ordinarily would mean people follow the president's direction and example. National emergencies can widen the political base.
Trump's Republican Party still sits under his thumb. Incumbency always offers a leg up on fundraising. To a fault, he is never shy about using government resources to promote himself.
Joe Biden is far from a fresh celebrity face. His vulnerabilities were plain to his rivals during the Democratic primaries. For decades, former vice presidents have had a losing record when seeking the top spot.
And yet, weeks away from the nominations and four months from Election Day, Trump appears foundering and spiteful, trailing in polls and worrying his allies, evoking dark and subversive threats. He even wastes time and political capital defending symbols of the Confederacy, a failed 19th century insurrection against the U.S.
In rapid succession, news items suggest Trump is frittering away the incumbent's advantage.
His support for keeping the Confederate flag flying at NASCAR and protecting rebel monuments even led Janet Mullins Grissom, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, to tweet: “Seems @POTUS is determined to give evidence to the ‘I think he’s trying to lose the election’ theorists.”
Meanwhile, ex-Trump chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, now his special envoy to Northern Ireland, warned that if the election "ends up being a popularity contest or, worse, a referendum on President Trump, I think he’s got some real headwinds to face."
Former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Trump nemesis within the GOP, said Monday: "He’s in a meltdown, and he looks at his polls, and he doesn’t know who to blame. He blames his advisers. He's even blaming Fox News now. And he’s flailing, and he doesn’t know how to stop things."
To highlight Trump's flaws in governing through the coronavirus, Biden outlined a new plan. The challenger proposed using federal authority to support the manufacture of critical products, encourage domestic pharmaceutical production and require plans to address supply-chain disruptions.
Only 38% of Americans currently approve of the job Trump is doing, according to a Gallup Poll published Monday. A Monmouth University poll published Tuesday showed Biden with a 12-point lead.
There is still time for circumstances to turn around. But just how Trump would avoid squandering all of his advantages in this election remains unclear.