Suburban Voters Say Trump Never Addressed COVID-19, Racial Unrest at RNC: 'Simply Ignored It'

Voters in America's suburbs, a key demographic that helped Donald Trump win the presidency in 2016, now say he has failed to address the coronavirus pandemic and racial unrest in 2020.

Trump campaign officials say the target audience of last week's Republican National Convention was primarily people who voted for him over Hillary Clinton in 2016. But longtime Republican voters and Trump's 2016 supporters say he failed to address glaring concerns about the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing collapse of the U.S. economy. GOP voters say the president must address the potential threat of a fall COVID-19 spike, as well as ongoing racial unrest, before they will vote for him again on November 3.

GOP strategists say Trump can ill afford to lose support in the suburban and exurban counties that surround cities like Milwaukee, despite doing just that on issues such as school reopenings and his administration's COVID-19 response.

"He simply ignored it," said 71-year-old Pat Newell, a longtime Republican voter who told the Associated Press they are taken aback by Trump's coronavirus pandemic handling, but is more supportive of the president's economic work. "That's so bothersome."

Trump won the country's overall suburban vote by five percentage points in 2016, which was a crucial component behind his victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Four years ago, the Trump campaign sent his daughter Ivanka and future White House counselor Kellyanne Conway out to appeal to white women voters in the suburbs.

"Supposedly the administration knew about the coronavirus for a couple of months but didn't warn, like, the population," said Jacob Cuenca, a South Florida conservative, in an interview with Public Radio International. "He just didn't handle it right."

Trump has repeatedly touted his ability to win over this demographic in November: "The 'suburban housewife' will be voting for me. They want safety & are thrilled that I ended the long running program where low income housing would invade their neighborhood. Biden would reinstall it, in a bigger form, with [Cory] Booker in charge!" Trump tweeted August 12.

But White House aides told the AP Saturday they are nervously awaiting Labor Day weekend, a time typically celebrated with large social gatherings and parties but a source of COVID-19 infection concerns this year. Three Trump aides and campaign advisers said they hope the early September holiday weekend does not cause a spike in cases similar to what was seen over Memorial Day weekend.

Democratic critics said Trump made many remarks during the RNC, but appeared to avoid discussion of the coronavirus pandemic altogether.

"Things not mentioned tonight at the RNC: There are over 177,000 Americans who have lost their lives to COVID-19, yet Donald Trump still doesn't have a national testing strategy," Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted.

"Most [RNC speakers] avoided mentioning the virus at all. Do they think voters are just gonna forget?" remarked former Obama speech writer Jon Favreau.

But some GOP voters touted the president's early directive to halt travel from China as evidence of what they see as the administration's successful response to the pandemic—a crisis that Republican voter Larry Parsons told the AP was exacerbated by news media hype.

"I think [Trump] did really good considering the times we're living in right now with all this COVID fear. I'm not somebody who suffers from COVID fear," Parsons said Tuesday.

In addition to pandemic response issues, many reliable GOP voters say Trump failed to address police shootings of unarmed Black men that have led to racial protests this summer, starting with the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

"He's obtuse, and he doesn't get it," said Lee Davis, who watched parts of the RNC from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, a Republican-leaning exurb of Milwaukee, according to the AP. "But I don't think he's a racist. I just think he's incapable of moving comfortably to talking about race. It's one of the many things he handles poorly because he's nihilist."

On Saturday morning Trump responded to the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, telling WMUR-TV: "Well, I'm looking into it very strongly. I'll be getting reports, and I'll certainly let you know pretty soon. It was not a good sight. I didn't like the sight of it, certainly, and I think most people would agree with that."

Several recent polls have shown that suburban women are peeling away from Trump and moving closer to Democratic candidate Joe Biden, a trend that troubles many GOP strategists.

"The president's problems are bigger than any one speech could fix," said Republican strategist Alex Conant, in an interview with the AP. "He is trying to stop bleeding in suburbs. He's trying to stop bleeding with seniors and independent voters."

Newsweek reached out to the Trump campaign for additional remarks Saturday morning.

Updated 1:03 PM ET with additional information.

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"He's obtuse, and he doesn't get it," said one Milwaukee-area suburban resident who voted for Trump in 2016, but who now says the president has failed to address racial unrest. CHRIS CARLSON - POOL/Getty Images