What should have been an easy interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday horrified advisers when Trump offered a labyrinthine, unanswered answer to a simple question about his second-term goals. In the same vein, the normally self-assured president offered tacit recognition that he might lose when he said Joe Biden “is going to be its president because some people don’t like me, maybe.”
In the hours after the interview aired, questions swirled within his inner circle about whether his heart really was on it when it comes to seeking reelection.
Trump has time to recover, and the political environment could improve for him. But interviews with more than half a dozen people close to the president described a reelection effort that urgently needed guidance, and an unfocused candidate that repeatedly undermines itself.
“Under the current trajectory, President Trump is on the precipice of one of the worst electoral defeats in modern presidential elections and the worst historically for a sitting president,” said former Trump political adviser Sam Nunberg, who remains a follower.
Nunberg pointed to national polls released by CNBC and the New York Times / Siena over the past week that show Trump received less than 40 percent against Biden.
If Trump’s numbers against it drop to 35 percentage points in the next two weeks, Nunberg added: “He will realistically face a loss of more than 400 electoral votes and the president would need to reconsider strongly if he wants to continue as a Republican candidate.” . Presidential candidate “.
Behind the scenes, Trump and his team are taking steps to correct the course. In the week since his demonstration in Tulsa, the president reluctantly admitted that he is behind, according to three people who are familiar with his thinking. Trump, who has spoken for days about the event, is beginning to take on a more practical role in the campaign and has expressed his openness to adding more people to the team. It has also recently held meetings focusing its efforts on individual battlefield states.
Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who effectively oversees the campaign from the White House, is expected to play an even more active role.
Trump’s campaign manager Brad Parscale was internally blamed for the failure of the Tulsa rally. Some people complained that he was announcing that 1 million people had applied for tickets, a boast that collapsed when thousands of seats were vacated during Trump’s speech.
Parscale has been the target of some Trump allies who argue that the campaign lacks consistent strategy and direction. But people close to the president insist that Parscale’s job is safe for now. Trump, who visited the campaign headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, a few months ago, told people he was impressed with the organization’s sophistication.
Parscale, whose experience is as a digital strategist, has received a few boosters in the past few weeks. Longtime Trump aide Bill Stepien was assigned additional responsibilities in the campaign, including working with political director Chris Carr and the Republican National Committee on voter turnout. And Jason Miller, a 2016 campaign veteran, was brought back to serve as chief political strategist, a position that had not been filled.
But those internal moves have done little to calm Republican nerves about the president’s personal performance. Fox News host and Trump favorite Tucker Carlson issued a forceful warning on his show this week that the president “may well lose this election.” South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, another close ally of Trump, told reporters that the president should make the race “focus more on politics and less on his personality.”
Trump’s team insists that the president’s numbers will improve as he steps up his public events and steps up his attacks on Biden. People involved in the campaign say they have decided on two main avenues to hunt down the former vice president: that he is indebted to liberals who want to do away with law and order, and that he is an accomplished Washington expert.
The campaign has started a massive television advertising campaign that haunts the 77-year-old former vice president, including for his mental ability and nearly five-decade political career. Hoping to dabble with African American voters, the Trump campaign is running ads criticizing Biden for his central role in the 1994 crime bill.
The commercials air in a variety of states, including Georgia, a traditionally red state where Trump suddenly finds himself in a fight. The cash laundering campaign is expected to remain on TV broadcasts in a number of key states during the elections.
Veterans of Trump’s first presidential campaign compare his current situation to the nightmarish summer of 2016, when he was struck by a series of self-inflicted scandals, from his criticism of a Gold Star family to his attack on a federal judge of Mexican descent.
Then, as now, Trump followed badly.
“There were similar concerns in 2016 and if it had been accurate, Hillary Clinton would be in the White House right now. Joe Biden is the weakest Democratic candidate in a generation and we are defining him that way, “said Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh.” We are four months away from Election Day and in the end it will be a clear choice between President Trump’s incredible record of achievement and Joe Biden’s half century of failure in Washington, DC “
Still, Trump advisers acknowledge that taking down Biden will require a level of discipline that he’s not demonstrating. They have pleaded with Trump, who has used his Twitter account to vilify critics of MSNBC host Joe Scarborough and former national security adviser John Bolton, to stop focusing on slights that mean little to voters.
Biden’s low profile during the pandemic has made it much more difficult for Trump to strike, his aides said.
But Republicans say he and his campaign need to figure something out soon.
“The key factor has been that Biden has been able to stay out of the race,” said David McIntosh, president of the pro-Trump Club for Growth. “Republicans have to start defining Biden and putting consistent resources, effort, and messages behind it.”