Down in polls, Trump goes after political enemies
President lashes out in desperate bid for an October surprise
US President Donald Trump berated his own Cabinet yesterday for not prosecuting or implicating his political enemies, lashing out amid a cascade of daunting poll numbers and a bout with the coronavirus that has locked him in the White House just weeks before the election.
In his first extended public comments since learning he had the virus last week, Trump balked at participating in holding the next debate with his Democratic challenger, former Vice President Joe Biden, remotely for health reasons and called Senator Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, a “monster” and a “communist”.
Trump castigated his own team, as well, declaring that Attorney General William Barr would go down in history “as a very sad, sad situation” if he does not indict Democrats like Biden and former President Barack Obama. He complained that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had not released Hillary Clinton’s emails, saying, “I’m not happy about him for that reason.” And he targeted Christopher Wray, the FBI director. “He’s been disappointing,” Trump said.
The pressure on his top administration officials to take action came as Trump bristled at the restraints of his illness. By the end of the day, he had secured a statement from the White House physician, Dr Sean Conley, reporting that Trump “has responded extremely well to treatment” and that by Sunday, “I fully expect the President’s return to public engagement.” The Trump campaign then used that statement to argue for the next debate to be held in person next Friday in Miami as originally planned.
Trump’s comments in an telephone interview with Fox Business came during what even for him was a scattershot performance, one that advisers said reflected increasing frustration over his political fortunes only 26 days before an election with surveys that show him trailing Biden by double digits.
He was all over the map, throwing out unsubstantiated or discredited accusations, explaining that he wanted to bring home troops from Afghanistan to be ready to fight China or Russia if necessary and calling Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan “the lockup queen” even as his own Justice Department was announcing an antigovernment group’s plot to kidnap her.
As for his opponents, he said Biden “wouldn’t be president for two months” because “he’s not mentally capable”, leaving Harris to then take over the presidency. “She’s a communist,” he said. “We’re going to have a communist.” A few hours later, Trump reposted Twitter messages claiming Speaker Nancy Pelosi might be orchestrating “a coup” against him.
But it was his assault on his own appointees that hinted at the escalating imperative to change the course of a campaign that has defied his efforts to shape it for months, what amounted to a plea for an October surprise.
“Unless Bill Barr indicts these people for crimes, the greatest political crime in the history of our country, then we’re going to get little satisfaction unless I win and we’ll just have to go, because I won’t forget it,” Trump said, referring to the investigation into his 2016 campaign ties with Russia. “But these people should be indicted. This was the greatest political crime in the history of our country, and that includes Obama and it includes Biden.”
Trump has often argued that his political antagonists should be prosecuted, but in this case, he went further by indicating he had directly pressured Barr to indict without waiting for more evidence. “He’s got all the information he needs,” Trump said. “They want to get more, more, more, they keep getting more. I said, ‘ You don’t need any more’.”
Even as he sought to reassert himself on the public stage after a week in the hospital and in the White House infected with the coronavirus, Trump brushed off the disease, saying that “when you catch it, you get better”, ignoring the more than 212,000 people who have died from it in the United States. He even seemed to suggest he may have been infected by the Gold Star parents of soldiers killed in battle at an event honouring them last month at the White House.
Trump’s phone interview with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business was his first time answering questions since he was infected with the virus and flown to the Walter Reed National Military Medical Centre, where he stayed for three nights. He insisted he had recovered and was no longer taking the experimental drugs used to treat the virus, but that he was still taking a steroid that doctors say can produce bursts of energy, euphoria and even a sense of invulnerability.
“I felt pretty lousy,” Trump said. But, he added, “I’m back because I’m a perfect physical specimen and I’m extremely young.”
Trump later released a video addressed specifically to senior citizens, who were once his political base but have increasingly soured on him as they have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, according to polls.
Acknowledging that he had been “very sick,” he praised the experimental treatments he was given for the virus and vowed to provide them to seniors. “I want you to get the same care that I got,” he said. “You’re going to get the same medicine. You’re going to get it free, no charge, and we’re going to get it to you soon.” White House aides privately expressed concern about whether Trump’s animated mood in recent days stemmed from the dexamethasone steroid he is on. Doctors not involved with the President’s care said it could have a significant effect on a patient’s behaviour.
Dr Negin Hajizadeh, a pulmonary/ critical care physician at Northwell Health, noted that most Covid- 19 patients receiving dexamethasone are on mechanical ventilation and in a state of induced coma, so they do not exhibit any behavioral side effects. But, she said, large studies show that generally 28- 30 per cent of patients will exhibit mild to moderate psychiatric side effects like anxiety, insomnia, mania or delirium after receiving steroid treatments, and about 6 per cent may develop psychosis.
“We will tell family members, especially for our older patients, ‘ This may cause insomnia, this may cause changes in eating habits and, in extreme cases, mania and impaired decision making’.” Watching the news coverage and angry at the state of the race, Trump has been imploring aides to let him resume campaign rallies as soon as this weekend, which now could be possible. He showed up again in the Oval Office Friday despite efforts to get him to remain in the residence until he was more fully recovered.
Around the White House and inside the Trump campaign, some advisers are worried. Others are looking at the calendar and arguing that there is still a lot of time left while they realise there are few if any opportunities to change the trajectory of the race. That would be especially true without next week’s debate.
Alex Conant, a Republican strategist and former aide to Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, said that the Trump campaign was entering a dangerous window, suggesting that a campaign heading for a possible defeat becomes treacherous.
“The knives come out, the donors flee and the candidate throws embarrassing Hail Marys,” he said. “Most politicians can handle losing a race, but they really don’t want to be embarrassed. When a loss seems inevitable, people who want a future in politics start looking out for their own interests. People start looking over their shoulders.”