The good news for President Trump is that the November election is still months away, according to Randy Russell.
Russell, president of The Russell Group and government relations counsel for the United Fresh Produce Association, said the bad news is that Trump is trailing Democratic challenger Joe Biden by double digits in recent preference polls.
Joined by moderator Robert Guenther, vice president of policy for United Fresh, Russell looked at November federal election prospects, political implications of the COVID-19 crisis, possible vice president picks for Biden and other topics during a virtual “coffee talk” June 19 at United Fresh LIVE!
President Trump and Biden were running neck and neck when the COVID-19 crisis began, Russell said, Trump’s approval rating has retreated from 48% at the start of the year to the low 40% range. Recent preference polls show Trump trailing Biden by 8% to 12%, Russell said.
The erosion of support for Trump is related to perceptions of how President Trump has handled the COVID-19 crisis and the civil unrest linked to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“I think there’s a perception that the president is viewed quite negatively from some of the polling data about how he’s handled both of those situations,” Russell said. “If you’re in the Trump campaign, the only good news that you have right now is that it’s June 19.”
At the same time, Trump tends to “under poll” consistently and the polls may not be a true reflection of what will happen in the ballot box, he said.
House and Senate
In the House of Representatives, Russell said the Democrats now enjoy an 18-seat advantage, and most pundits believe the House is a toss-up, with 16 Democrats and six Republican incumbents having coin-flip races.
However, Russell said Trump’s lower-trending approval ratings may lean the outcome in favor of Democrats.
In the Senate, Republicans currently enjoy a three-seat advantage. Twenty-three Republicans and 12 Democrats face reelection contests.
An attractive vice presidential choice for Biden could be Rep. Val Demings, D-Fla., Russell said.
“If I were Joe Biden, I tell you who I’d look at, and that’s Val Demings,” he said, noting that Demings took a leadership role in the impeachment of President Trump.
Demings comes from a low-income family and rose to be police chief in Orlando, a post she had for 27 years.
“I think she’d be a great vice president candidate for (Biden) to consider,” she said.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., could also be a good choice, he said.
Before COVID-19, Trump was polling fairly well with African American voters because of the strong economy, Russell said.
If Biden is elected, Russell said climate-change legislation will likely be a priority. “I would fully anticipate that in the first year, a Biden administration would take on climate (legislation),” he said. That may not be bad for agriculture.
“I think a lot of times agriculture is viewed as a part of the problem relative to climate (and greenhouse gases), and yet there’s a great opportunity for agriculture in this in terms of capturing carbon, whether it be through forestry,, row crop or other means,” he said.
Another likely priority for Biden will be infrastructure legislation, Russell said. President Trump recently floated a $1 trillion infrastructure plan but it was not embraced by Senate Republicans, he said.
Tax legislation, which would raise rates for higher-income Americans and cut taxes for lower-income or middle-income Americans is also likely in the first year of a Biden presidency, he said.
International organizations such as the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and other international institutions would be given more focus, and Biden would also have a multilateral approach to trade issues rather than the “America first” agenda Trump backs.
During the campaign, Russell said Biden will be very critical of the Trump administration’s approach on trade, particularly its use of tariffs.
“I think President (Trump) will say to (Biden), ‘I’m using tariffs as a means to an end; what would you propose?” Russell said.
As far as immigration, Russell said Biden would likely attempt immigration reform in his first or second year if he wins the White House.
“I think they would look for a comprehensive package that not only involved the H-2A and seasonal issues for agriculture, as well as the need for year-round labor and agriculture, and I think it would involve the 10.5 million illegals that are here in the U.S.” he said.
“I would assume the building of the wall would cease and desist if Biden is elected.”