Data: Google; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

President Trump built his political brand by stoking the nation's culture wars, but search data is showing us how much harder it's been for him to replicate that success while running against another white man in his 70s — and while there's a coronavirus pandemic.

The big picture: Google Trends data shows Trump's "Sleepy Joe" name-calling isn't generating nearly the buzz "Crooked Hillary" (or "Little Marco") did in 2016. Base voters who relished doubting President Obama's birth certificate aren't questioning Biden's.

  • Tech platforms are beginning to take more responsibility. And the coronavirus is a more unifying, longer-lasting fear than the president predicted.

Why it matters: Trump's struggle to find a line of attack that takes off against Joe Biden may be driving him to diverge more politically.

  • Other factors are working against Trump's playbook. Tech platforms are increasingly moving to shut down hate speech and flag misinformation, killing the sources of some of Trump's favorite conspiratorial material.
  • And search metrics suggest that, for the most part, a nation with more than 125,000 dead from the coronavirus has less patience for the president's usual tactics.

Trump's attempts to find an alternate culture-war footing with Confederate statues and police defunding — highlighted by his Mount Rushmore speech on Friday — appear to face their own limits.

  • Google Trends data shows that searches for "coronavirus" are far outpacing those for "statues," "police" and "antifa."
  • The president's disconnect with popular sentiment on two issues of the day — the virus and protests against structural racism — has led to some self-inflicted wounds, including his sparsely attended rally in Tulsa and his tweet about an elderly Buffalo protester being shoved by police.
  • Trump's continued attack line about Biden "not leaving his basement" hasn't taken hold measurably with voters, according to the search data. Biden's actions in terms of social distancing largely align with a majority of voters' own anxieties.
  • The Trump campaign didn't respond to a request for comment.

Between the lines: Conspiracy theories that benefitted Trump in the past often were formed in dark corners of the internet before bubbling up to more mainstream pundits — but now Big Tech is more aware than ever of its influence on society.

  • The president's earlier lever for a Biden-linked conspiracy theory revolved around son Hunter Biden's work with the Ukrainian gas company Burisma, which Trump tweeted about last week for the first time in months.
  • But Ukraine attacks present some challenges for Trump. They were publicly litigated at length during his impeachment trial — and serve to remind the public that Trump was impeached only months ago.

What's next: Trump isn't changing to meet the moment. He's moving away from comprehensive police reform, digging in as a law-and-order candidate and looking for another way to mobilize against Biden that can stick.

Go deeper

Biden launches $280 million ad push

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

Joe Biden's campaign is launching a $280 million TV and digital ad campaign heading into the fall, targeting 15 states with a message — delivered directly from Biden — about the coronavirus pandemic and the economy.

Why it matters: The size of the buy, which advisers described on a call with reporters Tuesday night, signals a campaign that isn't worried about burning through cash — and it may force the Trump campaign, or associated super PACs, to increase their spending in response.

Updated 17 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Trump campaign outraises Biden by $25 million in July

Combination images of President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images/Mark Makela/Getty Images

President Trump's re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee announced on Wednesday they collectively raised $165 million in July.

Why it matters: With 90 days until the election, Trump and the RNC outpaced the Biden campaign, the Democratic National Committee and their joint fundraising committees, who announced earlier Wednesday that they raised $140 million last month.

Updated 16 hours ago - Technology

Facebook, Twitter take down Trump post saying kids are immune to coronavirus

Photo: NurPhoto/Getty Images

Facebook removed a video post from President Trump Wednesday in which he claimed in an interview with Fox News that children are "almost immune" to COVID-19.

Why it matters: It’s the first time that Facebook has removed content from Trump's account for violating policies on coronavirus-related misinformation.