It is hard to remember another incumbent president in recent history who has done as little as Donald Trump to try to win reelection. In an environment that forecasts a November disaster for Republicans, Trump continued last week to barrel down a road that seems destined for defeat.
Rather than course correcting in the midst of tumbling poll numbers, Trump – who doesn’t like to admit mistakes – appears incapable of shifting in a more constructive direction on myriad fronts, from race relations to the coronavirus crisis.
Last week, he again refused to acknowledge the worsening pandemic or encourage Americans to adopt the simple and effective measure of wearing a mask, even though lives are on the line. At a time when thousands have lost the health care they had through their jobs, Trump redoubled his efforts to strip Americans of health insurance obtained through the Affordable Care Act.
He continued to use racist language to describe the virus and kindled more disquiet by championing the cause of dead generals with racist pasts at a time when a majority of Americans say they hope to stamp out racism.
One could be forgiven for wondering aloud whether Trump really wants to win the election in November – if it were not for his narcissism and competitive streak.
On Sunday, the President retweeted a video from a recent pro-Trump parade in the Florida community known as The Villages, where a supporter driving a golf cart bearing Trump campaign signs repeatedly shouts “white power” while arguing with anti-Trump protesters standing on the street. In the tweet, Trump called his supporters “great people.”
“Thank you to the great people of The Villages. The Radical Left Do Nothing Democrats will Fall in the Fall. Corrupt Joe is shot. See you soon!!” Trump wrote in the tweet sharing the video.
When CNN’s Jake Tapper on “State of the Union” played the video during a Sunday morning interview with Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Alex Azar responded by saying he had “not seen that video nor that tweet, but obviously neither the President, his administration, nor I would do anything to be supportive of white supremacy, or anything that would support discrimination of any kind.”
Hours later, the retweet no longer appeared on Trump’s timeline. White House spokesman Judd Deere said, “President Trump is a big fan of the Villages. He did not hear the one statement made on the video. What he did see was tremendous enthusiasm from his many supporters.”
Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden seized on Trump’s controversial tweet Sunday, saying it echoed the President’s assertion that “both sides” were to blame for white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.
“Today the President shared a video of people shouting ‘white power’ and said they were ‘great.’ Just like he did after Charlottesville,” the former vice president said in a tweet, adding, “We’re in a battle for the soul of the nation – and the President has picked a side.”
Given Trump’s intransigence and unwillingness to heed the concerns of the majority of Americans, the political reality for Trump looks increasingly bleak. Coronavirus cases rose in more than 30 states last week, and a new New York Times/Siena poll showed Biden leading Trump by 14 points, with a double-digit lead among independent voters as Trump’s support continues to crater with suburban voters and seniors.
But it was the slate of NYT/Siena battleground polls that gave Republicans the most heartburn. They showed Biden leading by 11 points in Michigan and Wisconsin, 10 points in Pennsylvania, 9 points in North Carolina, 7 points in Arizona and 6 points in Florida.
“The more that Donald Trump is out, the worse he does,” Biden observed during a Saturday campaign event focused on the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities. “I think it’s wonderful he goes out. He goes – I’m being a bit facetious because it’s dangerous what he’s doing with these rallies. But look at his numbers have dropped through the floor.”
Republicans worry about Trump’s drag on the ticket
Worried about what that could mean for the power of their party in Washington, Republicans are increasingly expressing their concerns about the November election after largely refusing to criticize the President for months, fearing a backlash from his base.
Several congressional Republicans voiced their unease after Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last Saturday — where he said he told his “people” to dial back coronavirus testing because he thought increasing case numbers were reflecting poorly on his handling of the virus.
Trump followed that incomprehensible admission on testing with a race-baiting event this week in Arizona where he once again used the racist term “Kung Flu” to describe the virus to the delight of his young conservative audience.
As Washington pondered who that rhetoric helps, Senate Majority Whip John Thune pointedly noted that Trump is already “good with the base,” adding that “the people in the middle” will cast the deciding vote in November.
Even in the friendliest of venues last week – a Fox News town hall – Trump seemed incapable of articulating a vision for a second term, instead spiraling into rambling tangents about “the word experience” and his nemesis-of-the-moment, former national security adviser John Bolton.
After criticizing Biden – “I mean, the man can’t speak” – Trump suggested his Democratic rival would be the next president: “and he’s going to be your president, because people don’t love me, maybe,” he said.
Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican, warned in a tweet Friday that Trump is risking his reelection campaign and called on “somebody (with) access to the Oval Office” to read a recent editorial in The Wall Street Journal, entitled “The Trump Referendum,” that argued that the President has “reverted to his worst form” and may be headed toward “an historic repudiation that would take the Republican Senate down with him.”
“Trump refuses to acknowledge what every poll now says is true: his approval rating has fallen to the 40% or below. That is George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter territory,” the newspaper said, noting Bush and Carter were the last two presidents who failed to win a second term. The editorial also noted what many have pointed out for weeks – that Trump has no semblance of a second-term agenda and centers his public speeches on long-standing personal grievances.
“We won’t (have) more good (Supreme Court) justices or the best economy in 50 years like we (have) had if he doesn’t follow that advice,” Grassley tweeted, referring to Trump’s record in getting conservative judges confirmed through the Republican-led Senate and to the strong economy before the coronavirus hit the United States.
A blind eye to coronavirus spikes
While the President refuses to acknowledge the nation’s growing coronavirus problems – asserting during an Oval Office meeting Wednesday with Polish President Andrzej Duda that Duda’s visit was the first “after Covid” – Vice President Mike Pence held the first public White House coronavirus task force briefing in nearly two months on Friday.
But Americans just tuning in to the opening presentation from Pence, who is the head of the task force, heard a litany of falsehoods as he insisted that America had flattened the curve and that the “volume of new cases coming in is a reflection of a great success in expanding testing across the country,” which public health experts dispute.
“We’re in a much better place,” he said, uttering a statement completely at odds with reality.
Flouting all of the recommendations of public health experts, Pence refused to say that Americans should wear masks, which so far has proved to be the simplest and most effective way of slowing transmission of the virus.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged the President to wear a mask during a Sunday interview on ABC’s “This Week,” stating that a federal mandate on mask wearing is “long overdue.”
“The President should be example, real men wear masks,” Pelosi said.
Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander, a Republican, said on Sunday that he wished the President would “wear a mask when it’s appropriate, because millions of Americans admire him and would follow his lead.”
“I think it would be a sign of strength if he would, from time to time, wear a mask and remind everyone that it is a good way to help with this disease,” Alexander said in an interview on CNN’s “Inside Politics.” “It also would help to get rid of this political debate, that if you’re for President Trump, you don’t wear a mask, and if you’re against President Trump, you do wear a mask. The stakes are much too high for that.”
But in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” airing Sunday, Pence again deferred to state and local officials when asked whether Americans should use masks in public.
“President Trump and I, after asking the American people to embrace 45 days to slow the spread – we issued guidelines to reopen America and since that day, nearly two months ago, we’ve made it clear that we want to defer to governors, we want to defer to local officials and people should listen to them.”
“Every state has a unique situation,” the vice president said, adding that “we believe people should wear masks wherever social distancing is not possible.”
Azar defended Trump and Pence’s decision not to wear a mask (though Pence wears a mask at some appearances), noting that they are both tested regularly and anyone who is around them is also tested that same day.
“He’s in a very unique position,” Azar said of Trump during his interview on “State of the Union.” “They’re leaders of the free world, they have very different circumstances than the rest of us.”
Still, the Trump campaign postponed Pence’s campaign events in Florida and Arizona (though he will still meet with governors and health care officials) in what seemed like a tacit acknowledgment that it was not a good time to risk a campaign-linked outbreak, especially after Trump campaign staffers who made the trip to the Tulsa rally decided to self-quarantine after interacting with aides in Tulsa who tested positive for the coronavirus.
And while Trump won’t concede that the coronavirus crisis is worsening, White House aides are stepping up measures meant to protect the President from the virus, despite his insistence that the virus is a waning threat.
This story has been updated with additional comments from Sunday news shows.
CNN’s Sarah Mucha and David Wright contributed to this report.