Trump isn't leading on the biggest issues, and it's showing in the polls

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: President Donald Trump walks to the Rose Garden for an event on May 26, 2020.
President Donald Trump walks to the Rose Garden for an event on May 26, 2020.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Carrie Dann and Melissa Holzberg

WASHINGTON — If you want to understand why President Trump had such a rough June and now trails Joe Biden by double digits in numerous national polls, it largely boils down to this simple explanation.

He’s refused to lead on some of the biggest developments that have rocked this country.

At a time when about two-thirds of voters are worried about catching the coronavirus and when more than 130,000 Americans have already died from it, the Trump administration is now messaging that the United States needs “to live with it."

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At a time when the U.S. unemployment rate is at its highest level since the Great Depression, the president is boasting about job numbers — even when they still show 11.1 percent of Americans are out of work.

At a time when clear majorities of voters say they support the protests responding to George Floyd’s death and see systemic discrimination against racial minorities, Trump has done the bare minimum when it comes to police reform, and he has defendedConfederate monuments and generals.

And at a time when the public has learned about intelligence indicating that Russia offered bounties to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Trump has called it a hoax and hasn’t lifted a finger to punish Russia for the alleged action.

Americans expect their presidents to lead on the biggest events of the day. To offer clarity. Or to at least promote a shared sense of purpose and unity.

Instead — despite all of these crises and events — Trump devoted his Fourth of July weekend railing against “the radical left, the Marxists, the anarchists, the agitators.

Talk about leading from behind. Or not leading at all.

Trump on the Fourth of July

Speaking of Trump’s Fourth of July events, here’s how the Washington Post’s Dan Balz summed them up.

“President Trump, with two speeches in two days, has turned the Fourth of July from a joyful and unifying patriotic celebration of America’s founding values into a partisan political event. The damage could outlast his presidency,” Balz writes.

More: “Trump knows his reelection campaign is in trouble. He sees the fight against this enemy of his creation as his pathway to victory in November. His political weapon of choice is exaggerated and at times racist rhetoric designed to pit Americans against Americans. Never in our lifetimes has the Independence Day holiday been used for such divisive and personal ends.”

And: “In 3½ years as president, Trump has never tried to expand his appeal, never sought to win over those who opposed him in 2016, never truly appealed for unity. On the day that has spoken to unity more than any other on the calendar, he instead followed his preferred script.”

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

2,899,466: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials.

130,937: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far.

35.51 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

More than 200,000: The number of positive cases in Florida alone.

27 days in a row: The number of days the United States has hit a new record in its seven-day rolling average of daily new cases

Three times: How much more likely Black and Latino Americans are to become infected with the virus than their white neighbors.

Two weeks: The length of Congress’s upcoming recess after lawmakers departed Washington without taking new action on coronavirus or economic stimulus.

41 years old: The age of Broadway actor Nick Cordero, who died of Covid-19 after battling it for nearly 100 days.

Tweet of the day

2020 Vision: Another Trump rally — this time with masks “encouraged”

Per NBC’s Monica Alba, President Trump will hold a campaign rally in Portsmouth, N.H., on Saturday, July 11.

Like Trump’s Tulsa rally on June 20, attendees have to sign a liability waiver in case they get coronavirus, Alba reports.

But unlike Tulsa, the Trump campaign says that wearing masks is “strongly encouraged,” Alba adds.

Another round of stimulus?

While the Senate continues its Fourth of July recess, lawmakers left Washington with more questions than answers when it came to another round of stimulus checks for Americans due to the coronavirus — and it’s unknown if the recent spike in cases will force Republicans’ hands.

NBC’s Sahil Kapur and Haley Talbot report: “Democrats want another round of direct stimulus payments to Americans up to $1,200 as coronavirus cases rise in dozens of states. President Donald Trump isn’t ruling it out. But Senate Republicans are on the fence or opposed, complicating its prospects.”

House Democrats’ most recent bill included another round of stimulus money, and Trump said, “I do support it” — before saying it would have to be “done properly.”

But Senate Republicans seem less enthralled with the idea. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., said that stimulus money would have to depend on the economy, and pointed to “great unemployment numbers” in June — even though 11.1 percent of Americans are still out of work.

The Senate won’t reconvene until July 20, and then they’ll be taking up coronavirus relief, as well as police reform (maybe).

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

NBC’s Allan Smith looks at how the Lincoln Project became so ubiquitous so fast.

Young voters are ready to embrace mail-in voting, a new survey finds. But they could struggle to figure out how to do it.

Tammy Duckworth is starting to look like a serious VP contender, the Washington Post writes.

Can Joe Biden win over climate activists?

Television coverage of the political conventions will be vastly different than in previous years.

Armed militia members showed up in Gettysburg over the weekend to stop a rumored antifa flag-burning event. It turned out to be fake.