Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele says election is a '50-50 race' and that Biden needs to step it up

Jon Ward
·Senior Political Correspondent
Michael Steele, former chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), speaks during the Skybridge Alternatives (SALT) conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., on Thursday, May 9, 2019. (Joe Buglewicz/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Michael Steele. (Joe Buglewicz/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele — a critic of President Trump — warned that the presidential race is a dead heat and that Democratic nominee Joe Biden needs to offer a more compelling argument for why he should be elected.

“This is a 50-50 race. It’s a 50-50 race right now,” Steele, one of the many high-profile Republicans who are supporting Biden, said in an interview Thursday on “The Long Game,” a Yahoo News podcast.

Biden held a robust lead over Trump over the late spring and into the summer, but that lead has been shrinking. The RealClearPolitics polling average showed Biden up by 10 points in June, but the lead is now around 7 points.

And Steele, who chaired the Republican National Committee from 2009 to 2011, said that images of “stores and shops being burned, and people rioting ... are starting to resonate” with voters in a way that is beneficial to Trump.

He said that the voter-targeting operation inside the Trump campaign and the RNC is formidable. “One thing Republicans, through the RNC apparatus and certainly the Trump campaign, are very good at is knowing where their voters are. And they know and have identified a very significant number of voters who did not vote in 2016,” Steele said.

“They just didn’t vote, but they like Trump now. They like him even more now.”

Biden responded Thursday to the Trump campaign’s recent attacks on him with a lengthy statement directly refuting Vice President Mike Pence’s speech on Wednesday night.

“Vice President Mike Pence stood before America and with a straight face said, ‘You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.’ His proof? The violence you’re seeing in Donald Trump’s America,” Biden said. “Did Mike Pence forget Donald Trump is president? Is Donald Trump even aware he’s president?

“These are not images from some imagined ‘Joe Biden’s America’ in the future. These are images from Donald Trump’s America today. The violence we’re witnessing is happening under Donald Trump. Not me,” Biden said. “How safe do you feel in Donald Trump’s America?”

Biden’s statement was an indication that his campaign sees the need to push back on Trump’s argument that violence and unrest — which have happened alongside peaceful protests in response to police shootings of Black Americans — will continue and increase if Biden is president.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, Democratic presidential nominee, speaks during the Democratic National Convention at the Chase Center in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Former Vice President Joe Biden at the Democratic National Convention in Wilmington, Del., on Aug. 20. (Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Steele isn’t the only political observer saying Trump has a better chance of winning than polls suggest. The violence over the past week in Kenosha, Wis., after the police shooting of Jacob Blake “seemed like part of the script,” journalist and historian George Packer wrote this week in the Atlantic.

“It played into [the Republicans’] main theme: that Biden is a tool of radical leftists who hate America, who want to bring the chaos of the cities they govern out to the suburbs where the real Americans live.”

Biden, in his statement Thursday, condemned violence, just as he has in every statement he’s made on protests and police brutality. “I have made it clear. There is no place for violence, looting, or burning. None. Zero,” Biden said.

But Packer questioned how much that is breaking through. “Democratic leaders, from the nearly invisible mayor of Kenosha up to those on the presidential ticket, are reluctant to tarnish a just cause, amplify Republican attacks, or draw the wrath of their own progressive base,” he wrote, calling this dynamic the most overlooked story in the mainstream press.

The Biden campaign wants the presidential election to focus on Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and on the economic fallout.

Trump still holds an advantage in most polls over Biden when it comes to who more Americans trust to handle the economy, as Steele pointed out.

U.S. President Donald Trump stands with his family members after delivering his acceptance speech for the Republican presidential nomination on the South Lawn of the White House August 27, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
President Trump after delivering his acceptance speech on the South Lawn of the White House on Thursday. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“What you see Trump trying to do is make it a race about [the economy], which is why he made his pitch to suburbia, right?” Steele said. “As opposed to what Biden wants to do, make it a referendum on COVID-19 ... all the people who lost their jobs, who are still unemployed.”

Trump’s message is that “he’s the guy who can get it done” when it comes to bringing back the economy, Steele said. “The narrative that Trump is putting out about Biden is he’s going to raise your taxes.”

Meanwhile, Steele said, the nation is “floundering” because of Trump.

“They’re tough times. ... We typically would look to our leaders to help us through them,” Steele said. “And as we saw with COVID-19, the president looked at the governors and said, ‘Well, go fend for yourself. We’re not here to provide you our stockpile.’

“We’ve never had a leader tell us, ‘Let me know how it turns out. Meanwhile, I’m going to go golfing,’” Steele said.

“This is what it looks like, America. And you have to ask yourself as you get ready for the next round, do you like how you feel?”

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