WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump is down in the polls, running out of time, and facing a resurgent coronavirus across the United States. Yet seemingly headed for defeat, he is doing nothing to change course.
Proud of his status as a non-politician who won the White House in his first shot, Trump brushes off polls ahead of Nov 3, preferring nostalgic reminiscences about his 2016 upset.
There’s no question that he still has the raw energy on stage of the candidate who surprised everyone to beat Hillary Clinton.
This week he began a punishing cycle of rallies, his first since recovering from hospitalisation for COVID-19 at the start of October.
In Florida on Monday and Pennsylvania on Tuesday, he entertained large, enthusiastic crowds.
He even did a little boogie on stage to the thumping rhythm of the Village People song “YMCA,” perhaps buoyed by the lyrics of “I said, young man, pick yourself off the ground.”
On Tuesday in Johnstown, a small Pennsylvania town, he delivered his now well-known speech in the cold autumn air, warning apocalyptically of Democrats turning the United States into a “large-scale version of Venezuela”.
Just as he used to mock and insult Clinton, he mocked and insulted challenger Joe Biden.
“He has no idea what he is saying! How the hell do you lose to a guy like this?” he asked.
“He’s shot,” Trump said. “In his best of years, he was considered a dumb guy.”
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The biggest issue of the day – COVID-19 and its more than 215,000 victims in the United States – was largely brushed off with typical Trump optimism.
He’d got over the virus himself, he said, and “the vaccines are coming soon”.
About his plans for a new four-year term, there was almost nothing other than the vague, patriotic climax to his stump speech which the crowds now know almost by heart.
“The best is yet to come,” he intoned. “We are going to keep on fighting, and we are going to keep on winning, wining, winning.”
Trump often contrasts his enthusiastic events with the quieter, much smaller versions on the Biden campaign trail. But polls show Biden is more popular and the Democrat has chosen a low-key campaign in keeping with his message of responsibility during the pandemic.
When not on stage, Trump is likely to be on Twitter, where he openly vents frustration at the situation.
Frequently blaming the media and “fake” polls for his image, he even lashes out increasingly at Fox News, although the network gives him a frequent platform with its friendly star presenters.
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When he’s not attacking journalists, he’s often winding deep through right-wing conspiracy theories, in large part aimed at his predecessor Barack Obama or Clinton. The false and convoluted accusations come in such volume that they often go almost ignored.
David Axelrod, a former Obama advisor, wondered on Twitter if Trump has “turned his own political suicide into a surreal reality show”.
With 20 days to go there could still be game-changing surprises, just as there were in 2016. But right now, Republicans are increasingly worried that Biden will lead a Democratic wave – or even tsunami.
Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate are showing signs of trying to keep their distance from the president, even if he still exerts tremendous influence over the activist right of the party.
When he came down with COVID-19, there was talk that perhaps now he’d seize the unique opportunity to become a more inclusive president. After months of dismissing the virus would he pivot to a show of empathy for the pain felt by ordinary Americans?
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That didn’t happen. Instead, he ended up demonstrating the gulf between regular voters and the elite when it comes to health care and the ability to confront the potentially deadly illness.
“One great thing about being president, if you’re not feeling 100 per cent, you have more doctors than you thought existed in the world. I was surrounded with like 14 of them,” he told Tuesday’s rally.