The New York Times confirms that account, and The Washington Post adds more detail, saying that campaign, White House, and Republican National Committee officials held a de facto intervention, trying to impress upon the president the political peril he faces and to get him to rein in his catastrophic daily briefings.
None of this predetermines a Trump loss in November, of course. At this stage four years ago, the Trump campaign was fractious, dealing with a possibly overmatched novice campaign manager, and trailing in the polls to Hillary Clinton, and he shocked the world by winning the election.
That upset may help to explain Trump’s fury now. The president is still fighting the last war, trying to rerun the 2016 campaign in a new environment. Trump clearly has never really moved on from the previous race, tweeting about it as recently as this morning. No campaign rally is complete without a lengthy soliloquy on the 2016 race, and Trump never stopped holding campaign rallies, even in the first months of his term in office. As recently as this January, a (misleading) map of the 2016 election results has been spotted on the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. He also continues to claim that the election was a landslide, rather than a loss in the popular vote—which he sometimes explains away with bogus claims of fraud.
David A. Graham: Why Trump was deaf to all the warnings he received
One can imagine the president’s side of this argument. In 2016, he did everything he was told not to do—by “smart” Republicans, by the media, and by many of his own aides—and still won. The engine of that victory, he believes, was his personal connection with American voters, cemented through the constant rallies he held. He’s feeling cabin fever and eager to get out of the house—you and me both, Mr. President—and back on the campaign trail. He said yesterday at a White House event that he plans to travel to Arizona next week. (One difference between you and me and the president is that while we’re all cooped up, he has hosted an endless procession of visitors from around the country for photo ops at the White House.)
Trump sees his poll numbers sliding and wants to get back on the trail to buck them up, no matter the public-health risks. And if he can’t do that, he wants to hold daily press appearances where he can thrust himself into the spotlight, a proxy for rallies. More than a few pundits have likened the daily briefings to rallies, with the added benefit of Anthony Fauci for a prop.
One can see the traces of this interpretation in the Times report:
Mr. Trump demanded to know how it was possible that a campaign that had been projecting strength and invincibility for two years was polling behind a candidate he viewed as extremely weak and, at the moment, largely invisible from daily news coverage.
There are several problems with this analysis. First, Trump’s projection of strength was always flimsy; although Trump entered the election as a slight favorite, the race was always likely to be tight. Second, Biden was never quite so weak as Trump claims here, and probably stronger than Hillary Clinton (despite manifest flaws). Third, Biden’s invisibility looks like an asset; the Democrat is, by choice or necessity, letting Trump run against himself, to great effect. Finally, this account ignores the central political fact of the moment, which is that tens of thousands of Americans have died in a pandemic that polls show voters believe Trump has botched.