Trump 'at sea' and 'uncertain' how to boost his approval numbers before 2020 election: NYT
President Donald Trump in the Oval Office. (Image via AFP/Saul Loeb.)

With the 2020 election less than seven months away, Donald Trump is reportedly stymied by how to get a bump in his approval numbers -- and thus increase his chances of re-election -- while attempting to deal both with the coronavirus health crisis and the massive economic toll it taking along with human lives.

According to a report from the New York Times' Maggie Haberman, the president and his staffers are of two minds about how to give his re-election campaign a jolt, with the president deluged with conflicting opinions from his White House advisers as well as his campaign officials. 

"Hurtling from one position to another is consistent with Mr. Trump’s approach to the presidency over the past three years. Even when external pressures and stresses appear to change the dynamics that the country is facing, Mr. Trump remains unbowed, altering his approach for a day or two, only to return to nursing grievances," Haberman wrote. "Not even the president’s re-election campaign can harness him: His team is often reactive to his moods and whims, trying but not always succeeding in steering him in a particular direction. Now, with Mr. Trump’s poll numbers falling after a rally-around-the-leader bump, he is road-testing a new turn on a familiar theme — veering into messages aimed at appealing to Americans whose lives have been disrupted by the legally enforceable stay-at-home orders."

As the report notes, for the moment the president is leaning into an "anti-government" posture -- rallying his base and inciting protesters to hit the streets and put pressure on Democratic governors to push for a return to normalcy despsite COVID-19 fears -- because it worked well for him in 2016.

"The president, who ran as an insurgent in 2016, is most comfortable raging against the machine of government, even when he is the one running the country. And while the coronavirus is in every state in the union, it is heavily affecting minority and low-income communities," she explained. "So when Mr. Trump on Friday tweeted 'LIBERATE,' his all-capitalized exhortations against strict orders in specific states — including Michigan — were in keeping with how he ran in 2016: saying things that seem contradictory, like pledging to work with governors and then urging people to 'liberate' their states, and leaving it to his audiences to hear what they want to hear in his words."

And yet, Trump has already dialed back that rhetoric to a degree, meekly defending the protest attendees by saying, “These are people expressing their views. They seem to be very responsible people to me.”

"Mr. Trump’s advisers are divided about the wisdom of encouraging the protests. At some of them, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a Democrat, has been compared to Adolf Hitler. At least one protester had a sign featuring a swastika," the report notes. "One adviser said privately that if someone were to be injured at the protests — or if anyone contracted the coronavirus at large events where people were not wearing masks — there would be potential political risk for the president."

Haberman notes that another faction in the president's inner circle are pushing for more attacks on presumptive 2020 presidential opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden who is currently handcuffed from doing full-scale campaigning due to the pandemic that has virtually shut down the country.

"With the political campaign halted, Mr. Trump’s advisers have seen an advantage in the frozen-in-time state of the race. Mr. Biden has struggled to fund-raise or even to get daily attention in the news cycle," Haberman wrote. "But Mr. Trump himself has seemed at sea, according to people close to him, uncertain of how to proceed. His approval numbers in his campaign polling have settled back to a level consistent with before the coronavirus, according to multiple people familiar with the data."

Haberman also stated that the president is being pulled in opposite directions by campaign manager Brad Parscale and longtime White House adviser Kellyanne Conway.

"Mr. Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, has advocated messages that contrast Mr. Trump with Mr. Biden on a number of fronts, including China," the report states. "Kellyanne Conway, the White House counselor, has argued in West Wing discussions that there is a time to focus on China, but that for now, the president should embrace commander-in-chief moments amid the crisis."

"Ultimately, Mr. Trump’s advisers said, most of his team is aware that it can try to drive down Mr. Biden’s poll numbers, but that no matter what tactics it deploys now, the president’s future will most likely depend on whether the economy is improving in the fall and whether the virus’s spread has been mitigated. Those things will remain unknown for months," Haberman concludes.

You can read more here.