WASHINGTON – It’s getting late early.
President Donald Trump is privately reassuring Republicans anxious about his deficits to Democrat Joe Biden, noting there are three months until Election Day and reminding them of the late-breaking events that propelled his 2016 comeback.
But four years later, the dynamics are very different.
Aides are increasingly worried that the 2020 campaign may already be defined as a referendum on Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and will feature a historic shift to remote and early vote options. The president’s campaign is scrambling for a reset, pausing advertisements while struggling to find both a cohesive message and a way to safely put the president on the road in front of voters.
Trump added to the tumult by publicly wondering if the election should be delayed while making the unfounded claim that the tilt toward mail-in balloting would lead to widespread voter fraud. That suggestion drew a rare rebuke from Republicans, many of whom quietly warned the White House that it could be interpreted as an admission that the president was losing and could hurt their chances of retaining the Senate.
And they warned that time is running out: The first state to hold early voting, the vital battleground of North Carolina, begins the process Sept. 4.
“He’s losing and the trajectory of the race is moving away from him,” said Steve Schmidt, a senior adviser on Republican John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and an opponent of Trump's reelection. “People vote at a moment in time: Even if there is something of a political recovery for the president in October, that is irrelevant for those who already voted.”
A sudden halt in Trump's expensive television advertisements last week highlighted the campaign's challenge. It came just two weeks after a staffing shakeup and two months after Trump's previous campaign manager unleashed a “Death Star” ad blitz on Biden that only coincided with the president’s support falling even further.