To President Donald Trump, one of the biggest concerns regarding the ongoing coronavirus crisis is its effect on his reelection, as the spiraling pandemic, economic crash, and his administration’s botched response all threaten to hurt his November fight against Joe Biden. “The campaign doesn’t matter anymore,” Trump recently told a friend, my colleague Gabriel Sherman reported. “What I do now will determine if I get reelected.” With his freewheeling political rallies now off the table in the age of social distancing, Trump has tried to wrestle back attention and control the coronavirus narrative through rambling daily press briefings, which give him the boffo ratings and attention he so badly desires. The president’s nightly exercises in egotism appear to only be hurting his 2020 chances even more, however—and Trump is lashing out as a result.
Multiple sources report that Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale and other advisers held a call with the president last Wednesday, April 22, to highlight the president’s failing poll numbers against Biden amid the coronavirus outbreak, presenting the declining numbers as evidence the president should maybe ease off the daily pressers. The internal polling showed Trump faltering against Biden in key swing states, and advisers encouraged the president to hold his briefings less frequently or stop taking questions from the press, which can easily send the president off the rails. (This was even before Trump dangerously suggested injecting disinfectants could cure the coronavirus.) But “the message didn’t appear to sink in with the President,” CNN reports. Trump, who aides say distrusts polling when its unfavorable to him, reportedly refused to believe his widely-criticized briefings could possibly be hurting his electoral chances, with one source telling the Washington Post that Trump said on the call that “people ‘love’ the briefings,” and think he is ‘fighting for them.’” (As the New York Times notes, the president’s “firm belief that the daily news conferences have been helpful to him is not backed up in the polls.”)
Two days later on Friday—after Trump’s disinfectant comments set off a new political firestorm—the president reportedly took his anger over his dimming electoral prospects out on Parscale, whom he shouted at over the phone. “[Trump is] pissed because he knows he messed up in those briefings,” one Republican close to the White House told CNN about the president’s attack. CNN, which first reported the news of Trump’s call with Parscale, notes that Trump “berated” the campaign manager for the president’s poor polling numbers, and even threatened to sue Parscale, though the Post reports the comment was intended as a joke. “I love you, too,” Parscale reportedly replied, and the two have since seemingly reconciled. Trump’s outburst was indicative of the president’s apparently foul mood lately as the coronavirus has encroached on the election, with the Post noting that a mix of polling, poor news coverage, and the focus on coronavirus testing—which the Trump administration continues to fail on—especially lowered Trump’s spirits around the time of the Parscale call. “He was just in a terrible mood with everyone late last week,” one official told the Post. The Times reports that Trump has become “increasingly anxious” lately that he’ll lose to Biden, whom he views as an “extremely weak” competitor, and aides have tried to lift his spirits by showing him polling that looks rosier than the projections presented to him in the Wednesday call. (Much of the public polling that’s come out lately still shows Biden with a distinct lead.)
The Trump advisers’ suggestion last week that Trump’s reelection chances could improve if the president laid off the daily briefings isn’t the first time that Trump allies have raised objections to the often-unhinged pressers. But their pressure—and the understandably harsh blowback from the president using his platform to suggest people inject bleach—may have finally worked this time around, as the president has stayed out of the briefing room in recent days. (He does continue to talk to the press and answer questions in other settings.) According to CNN, however, Trump has told aides that he thinks it’s him being cooped up in the White House that’s hurting his poll numbers, not his daily rambling sessions where he lies and obfuscates about the coronavirus to the American people. As a result, the stir-crazy president is apparently getting ready to hit the road again with trips to battleground electoral states, even as much of the country remains under lockdown. The president told reporters Wednesday that he intends to travel to Arizona next week, with a possible trip to the key swing state of Ohio likely to follow. “And we’re going to start to move around, and hopefully in the not too distant future we’ll have some massive rallies and people will be sitting next to each other,” Trump claimed Wednesday.
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