U.S. News & World Report: Donald Trump’s combativeness reached new levels this week, with escalated attacks that left his enemies – and his allies – scratching their heads.
By Susan Milligan, Senior Politics Writer,
Even by modern political discourse standards, President Donald Trump reached a new level of frenzy and attack this week: He suggested a cable news host committed murder. He threatened to pull the Republican National Convention out of the state that has spent nearly two years planning for the event. He tweeted gleefully about media layoffs, ridiculed his likely Democratic election foe for wearing a protective mask and claimed that if more people vote by mail – as he does – the election will be a fraud.
Trump’s signature combativeness has long been an inspiration for his most devout followers and a source of outrage among his detractors. But this week, the president appears to have crossed a line – moving his favorite social media forum, Twitter, to append a fact-check suggestion to the president’s often factually challenged tweets. That led the president Wednesday to threaten, on that very forum, to shut down the site – though it’s not clear why he believes he has the power to do so.
“He’s jumped the shark – on ‘Morning Joe,’ and the ballots and people robbing mailboxes. It’s just lunacy,” says independent political analyst Stu Rothenberg, referring to the cable news show hosted by former GOP Rep. Joe Scarborough, whom Trump has suggested murdered a young staffer in 2001.
“I think he’s taken his attacks, his name-calling, his bullying efforts to a whole new level. I didn’t think it was possible. I didn’t think there was another level,” Rothenberg adds. “You’d think there was a logic to it, but I don’t see any political rationale for what he’s doing.”
As the coronavirus crisis melds with the presidential campaign, Trump has flailed around as he collects targets to shoot at and makes blatantly false claims. The president has long reveled in pushing people’s buttons, but as his reelection prospects look increasingly daunting, it is the panic button on the other end of his finger, his critics and independent observers say.
He’s retweeted insinuations that Scarborough was having an affair with a young intern and killed her. In fact, she was not an intern but a staffer, her death was ruled an accident, and Scarborough was 800 miles away when she hit her head and died after an apparent fall. Trump slammed Rep. Conor Lamb – whom he first called “Lamm” – accusing the Pennsylvania Democrat of voting for Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California for speaker, He didn’t.
Trump, who loves to be among adoring fans, threatened to pull the Republian convention, set for August, out of North Carolina unless the state’s Democratic governor – who has been gradually reopening establishments closed because of the coronavirus – guaranteed the convention could go ahead as usual.
He has gone on a rampage against mail-in voting, which he tweeted would ensure a “rigged election. There is NO WAY (ZERO!) that Mail-In Ballots will be anything less than substantially fraudulent. Mail boxes will be robbed, ballots will be forged & even illegally printed out & fraudulently signed,” the president wrote.
Meanwhile, Trump has bragged about the number of deaths from the coronavirus, which surpassed 100,000 in the United States on Wednesday, saying that initial predictions were that a million or more Americans would die from the pandemic. In fact, Trump at the beginning of the crisis said its impact would be minimal and it would go away of its own accord – later projecting it could reach 60,000 fatalities.
Trump loyalists have been largely silent as the president aims his ire at the media, Democratic governors and even battleground states he needs to keep his job after November’s elections.
Polls show Trump trailing his presumptive Democratic opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, in a slew of battleground states Trump won in 2016, including Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Florida and Arizona. Surveys also show competitive contests in North Carolina, Ohio and Iowa, and too-close-for-comfort Trump leads in such longtime GOP strongholds of Texas, Georgia and Utah.
“His words are erratic and change every day. His behavior is such that he is showing what a lot of people would call political desperation,” says University of Utah political science professor Tim Chambless, explaining a new poll showing Trump just 3 percentage points ahead of Biden in the Beehive State.
While Utah hasn’t voted for a Democrat for president since 1964, Trump is vulnerable there because of voters – including Republicans – who are “ashamed or embarrassed by the current occupant of the White House,” Chambless says. Trump is “basically assuming Utah is a state that is red and which would not oppose him, (but) they just might vote for Joe Biden,” he adds.
A Rothenberg analysis published on Memorial Day has the presidential race leaning toward Biden.
Trump has also fought back in a strategic way, naming a new deputy campaign manager and running an aggressive ad campaign on the airwaves and on Facebook. The campaign is also planning a $1 million ad blitz directly attacking Biden for making an inartful remark during an interview that if an African American voter is still trying to choose between them, “You ain’t black.”
But many dynamics of the campaign are hard for the president to reverse in time for the election, such as the spread of the virus and the economic distress it has caused.
It is that reality, Trump opponents say, that has led the president to argue so fiercely against mail-in balloting. While there are few reports of fraud in vote-by-mail- and no evidence that either party benefits more than the other from vote-by-mail – the president is looking for an easy excuse if he indeed loses, said Rep. Eric Swalwell, California Democrat. “For the first time in American history,” the outgoing president would be “handling an asterisk around the transfer of power,” Swalwell told MSNBC on Wednesday.
“You’d think he’d say, ‘I’m going to do something to enhance my popularity.’ He just never does. He doubles and triples down on the rhetoric he knows offends people, including people who voted for him in 2016,” Rothenberg says. “It doesn’t make any sense.”