vision 2020

Trump’s Closing Message to Seniors: I Don’t Care If You Die

He’s just not that into you. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Donald Trump’s campaign would be in pretty good shape if it weren’t for old white people.

In most polls, the president’s support among Black and Hispanic voters appears to be slightly higher than it was in 2016. In Florida — a state Trump (almost certainly) needs to win to secure an Electoral College majority — his numbers with nonwhite voters would guarantee him victory as long as the Sunshine State’s retirees provide him with roughly as much support as they did four years ago.

But as of now, Florida’s seniors are doing no such thing.

In 2016, exit polls showed Trump besting Clinton among Floridians 65 and over by 17 points. This week, an AARP poll shows Biden leading Trump by just one point with that constituency. Of course, the Sunshine State’s elders aren’t uniformly white, and Biden is almost certainly performing better with nonwhite seniors than with white ones. But America’s elderly population is much less diverse than the nation as a whole — and older white voters have been a linchpin of the Republican coalition for more than a decade as the GOP has used the demographic’s supremely high turnout rate to compensate for its unpopularity among the broader American public. At present, the president is faring worse among seniors nationally than he is in Florida. As CNN’s Harry Enten notes, an average of all national live-interview polls since August shows seniors backing Biden over Trump by eight points. If Trump loses this predominantly white, Republican, and high-propensity-to-vote demographic group, his presidency will (almost certainly) be over in four months.

Any remotely competent campaign would respond to this data by adjusting its messaging to better appeal to Trump’s birth cohort. So what is the president’s plan for making American seniors Republican again?

The answer is, apparently, to inform them that Donald Trump doesn’t care much whether they live or die.

At a rally in Ohio on Monday, Trump belittled the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing, “It affects elderly people. Elderly people with heart problems and other problems. If they have other problems, that’s what it really affects.”

“That’s it. You know, in some states, thousands of people, nobody young. Below the age of 18, like, nobody,” the president continued. “They have a strong immune system, who knows? You look — take your hat off to the young because they have a hell of an immune system. But it affects virtually nobody.”

Trump followed up this public-health analysis with a call for broader reopenings, implicitly arguing that a disease that kills only old people is not worth containing.

There have been 200,00 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. Many more people have suffered serious illness as a result of contracting the disease. The second-order victims of the pandemic’s economic and social effects arguably constitute the vast majority of the country. But Trump is right that COVID fatalities are heavily concentrated among those of advanced age. So if you consider senior citizens (or, at least, senior citizens who lack the wealth and power to insulate themselves from contagion) to be less than human, then perhaps you could say that COVID has killed “virtually nobody,” if you take a very expansive definition of the word virtually.

Maybe older Trump-to-Biden supporters are looking for a president who will tell them that their lives have no value and that the Dow’s performance must take precedence over protecting nonentities like themselves from a fatal disease. But it seems like a risky bet.

Trump’s Closing Message to Seniors: I Don’t Care If You Die