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Election Update: Trump offers upbeat assessment of campaign, calls Fauci ‘a disaster’ during staff call


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Oct. 19, 2020 at 1:24 p.m. EDT

President Trump offered an upbeat assessment of his reelection prospects and called Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease official, “a disaster” during a private call with campaign staffers on Monday in which he also lashed out at several other targets.

The call came ahead of two planned rallies in Arizona, a state Trump carried four years ago, as he maintains a full schedule ahead of his final debate with Democratic nominee Joe Biden on Thursday. Biden has advertised no public events Monday as he meets with advisers.

But the pandemic has. In fact, it has created a noticeable shift in support away from Trump and toward Biden.

Before the pandemic, when focus-group participants were asked how things were going in the country, they would always split their responses into two separate categories. They thought things were going well in terms of the economy—and thought Trump didn’t get enough credit for the relative peace and prosperity the country was experiencing. They also said that the mood of the country was dark and divided, and used terms like “powder keg” to describe their inchoate concerns about the future. They worried that the president’s rhetoric and recklessness would eventually have consequences.

In focus groups over the past six months, participants have felt no need to bifurcate their assessments. The most common response is—seriously—a variation on the term s*** show. Personal pain often spills into these women’s answers. They note that they were furloughed or laid off, or that someone in their family was. Some have underlying medical conditions or are in remission from cancer and are frustrated with people who won’t wear masks. Others talk about struggling with loneliness or trying to raise young children without the help of day care or family. Some have lost parents or relatives and weren’t able to be with them when they died. Many refer to George Floyd’s death and the protests that gripped the country over the summer. Some are angry at what they call “looting and rioting.” Others say that they joined the protests in their town or city.

Occasionally, I invite participants to a second focus group, to see if their views have changed. In November 2019, a woman from Pennsylvania explained that she planned to vote for Trump again because it was better to go with “the poison you know than the poison you don’t know.” In August, she said she was leaning toward Biden, citing the president’s divisive rhetoric around the George Floyd killing. In April, a woman from Wisconsin said she couldn’t vote for Democrats, because the party didn’t reflect her values. In August, she said she couldn’t vote for another four years of Trump, for her young son’s sake.

Trump has done nothing to win these voters back. In the focus group I convened immediately after the presidential debate, not a single one of the nine swing-state women in the group was committed to voting for the president again in 2020. More than half said they were either definitely, or most likely, voting for Biden.

Trump’s alienation of the voters who took a chance on him in 2016 tells part of the story of Biden’s standing in the polls. And these defectors might be enough to put Biden over the top in November.

Nevertheless, the story isn’t a wholly good one for Democrats. Even in the past six months, some participants have continued to say they’ll back Trump. They don’t think Trump is doing great, but how could he? He’s constantly contending with obstructionist Democrats, a biased media, and a bunch of Never Trump Republicans in Name Only.

Some meaningful number of voters who are clear-eyed about Trump and his manifest failures—even those who think he is plainly doing a bad job—will stick with the president because they believe Democrats are worse and the media aren’t to be trusted. And these aren’t voters who are glued to Fox News and reading Breitbart News. Often they don’t think about politics at all—and they certainly don’t follow the daily machinations of Washington. They’re typically not on Twitter. Instead they swim in a cultural soup of Trumpism, surrounded by friends, family, and social-media acquaintances who do live more exclusively in a right-wing-media ecosystem.

Even if Biden pulls off a landslide victory, that ecosystem will remain. And so will the dislike of Democrats and distrust of the mainstream media. Getting rid of Trump won’t end the opposition’s problems.

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