WASHINGTON (AP) – President Donald Trump has run out of time to recover from a series of self-inflicted setbacks that have shattered his support base and raised the alarm among Republicans fearing the White House is on the verge of losing to Democrat Joe have Biden.
The double blow from Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis and his widespread debate performance have also made Republicans concerned they might lose control of the Senate. With just over three weeks to go to election day, the Senate races are competitive in some reliably red states, including South Carolina and Kansas. This is aided by a surge in Democratic fundraisers that has unexpectedly financially disadvantaged both the Republican Party and Trump̵
The president will seek a reset this week in the hope of an aggressive travel plan and Supreme Court confirmatory hearing from Judge Amy Coney Barrett will energize its most loyal followers and turn attention away from a virus that has killed more than 214,000 Americans on its watch.
Optimists within the president’s inner circle point to his unique ability to grab attention and his 2016 campaign, which seemed doomed even before a late shift. However, this comeback was supported by outside forces against an unpopular opponent. Other Republicans fear that this year’s campaign will be more like 1980 or 2008: a close race until it was decidedly not in the end.
“It’s not good for me,” said veteran GOP pollster Whit Ayres. “It’s pretty obvious that Republicans are in the same boat as Donald Trump in many ways. That’s good for Republicans in deep red states, but more problematic for those in swing states. ”
Ayres asked for bright spots for the Republic field and said, “I’m racking my brain and just fighting.”
This report of Trump’s re-election efforts was compiled from interviews with nearly two dozen White House and campaign officials and Republicans near the west wing, many of whom were not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. It describes how a race that has generally been stable for months has weathered a series of historic shocks.
Republicans began seeing warning signs last month.
The death of the judge at the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, revived conservatives, but also electrified Democrats and triggered a tsunami towards Biden and Down Ballot Democrats. Trump’s heavily derided debate performance only exacerbated the problem as even his own supporters found him rude for interrupting Biden so often.
After reviewing the data, campaigners worried when they noticed that Trump’s support was gradually waning. They saw the president’s coronavirus diagnosis only exacerbating the problem, especially among seniors.
“It’s not good,” said Alex Conant, a senior campaign advisor for Senator Marco Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign. “It’s been a long time since Donald Trump had good news, and when he has good news he manages to step on it.”
The Trump campaign insists the president can win re-election, saying his return to the streets will excite his grassroots, while claims that public polls have under-counted their supporters.
But national polls have shown that Biden has a significant lead. And while margins are smaller in battlefield states, Trump has persistent deficits in most of the states that will make the election.
Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said on Friday that if these people are depressed and angry on election day, “I think we could lose the White House and both Houses of Congress, that it could be a Watergate-sized bloodbath.” In November 1974, when the first congressional elections after the Watergate scandal drove Republican President Richard Nixon out of office, the Democrats increased their majorities in both houses significantly. They took back the White House in 1976 and added even more seats in Congress.
Trump’s campaign fears it will lose support from local voters, women and older voters. The loss of senior voters would be particularly worrying in states like Florida and Arizona, where aides believed Trump had even pulled Biden with or slightly ahead of Biden, in part due to his improved standing with Latino voters.
Advisors privately admit that Trump, who has not softened his tone for the virus after his illness, has little chance of victory without Florida, where his first post-diagnosis rally will take place on Monday. And a loss in Arizona would require Trump to hold on to Pennsylvania.
In the past few weeks, Biden has ventured into states once considered safe for Trump, including Iowa, Georgia and Texas, forcing the president to devote valuable time and resources to defense. The Democrat will make his first trip to Ohio on Monday as part of the general election campaign, another Trump state won convincingly in 2016.
“He’s in trouble, no question about it. With any traditional measuring stick, it looks like a landslide in Biden, ”said Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for President George W. Bush. “It’s hard to predict what will happen in Congress, but every time there is a big win it can create tides that get people out of the way.”
The Senate’s fate has increasingly weighed on Republicans, who see tough races in Maine, Colorado, Arizona and North Carolina and even sorrow in deep red Kansas and South Carolina. Some Trump supporters warn that the GOP Senate candidates are at a turning point, and some, including Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and Martha McSally of Arizona, have taken small steps in the past few days to get out of the president distance.
Dan Eberhart, a prominent GOP donor and Trump supporter, said there was no doubt that Trump’s handling of the pandemic could undermine support for Republicans with voting results and lead to a democratic change of government.
“I hope the polls got it wrong,” said Eberhart. “But Republicans … need to develop a campaign strategy that will protect the Senate at all costs, even if that means sacrificing the Oval Office.”
A significant opportunity to potentially change the race’s trajectory is in Barrett’s Senate confirmation hearings this week. Trump’s campaign believes the hearings could steer the political narrative away from the virus and draw attention to Biden’s refusal to say whether he would expand or “grab” the Supreme Court.
But there was a second guess from Trump and campaign executives, including Bill Stepien, the campaign manager, who is also sick with COVID-19 for not wanting to appear in a distant debate last week. The move, like Trump’s impulsive decision to blow up COVID relief talks only to start again later, was one of several recent episodes that was less about trying to win and more about making excuses for a loss to find.
And after days of back and forth, there is only one debate left that will give Trump 90 minutes to reach tens of millions of Americans. And that price is important.
The Trump campaign has spent more than $ 1.5 million in the District of Columbia market since late April – one of the most liberal in the country but home to the president’s obsessive habits of cable spying. That’s more than he spent in Virginia and New Hampshire and helped erode Trump’s once massive cash advantage for Biden.
The Democrat beats Trump by more than 2-1 at a time when the president has largely withdrawn from the battlefield-nation advertising that helped him win in 2016.
While Biden’s campaign and Democrats have booked $ 172 million in ad time in the past three weeks, Trump and the GOP have reserved $ 92 million, according to political ad tracker Kantar / CMAG.
Some Trump allies say their best bet is to hope the results come out just before election night before some of the mail-in ballots are counted so that Trump can declare victory and take the results to court.
The Trump campaign believes the president’s return to campaigning will avert the story of COVID, and says one economic argument – 56% of people in a Gallup poll this week said they did, despite the pandemic going better than four years ago – going to be a winner.
“If we believed in public media polls, we would be talking about Hillary Clinton’s re-election now,” said Tim Murtaugh, campaign communications director. “The election in this campaign boils down to this: who do you trust to get the economy going again, the president who has done it once and is doing it again, or Joe Biden and his 47-year record in Washington?” “
Still, Trump is pushing for a final message, turning a flurry of recent interviews into tirades about the 2016 election, and urging his attorney general to investigate his political opponents. Newt Gingrich, who believes Trump will win again, warned the president to end the last war.
“He’s not fully adjusted to the fact that Biden isn’t Hillary, and he hasn’t adjusted to the fact that he’s been there for five years and doesn’t have a fresh face,” said the former Republican House spokesman. “The things that worked against Hillary didn’t work against Biden.”
While the state of the race looks promising, Democrats know three weeks in the age of Trump is an eternity.
“There is a chance for massive Democratic victory, but it’s still tight in some of these states,” said Claire McCaskill, a former Democratic senator from Missouri. “The basics of the race haven’t changed. However, I am optimistic that the president’s instincts have never been so wrong. “
Associate press writers Bill Barrow in Phoenix and Lisa Mascaro, Aamer Madhani and Brian Slodysko in Washington contributed to this report.