President Donald Trump's team thinks that he can come back and still win the 2020 election if they can turn the recession around and trick former Vice President Joe Biden into having a meltdown. Both strategies are a longshot.
According to the LA Times, "for weeks, President Trump's campaign aides have fretted about whether he could draw a major crowd to an outdoor venue Saturday night in Portsmouth, N.H., or if not, whether they could stage the event to make it look full."
Ultimately, the campaign canceled the rally, trying to claim it was about weather, not because of lackluster response.
"The decision reflects the growing nervousness in Trump's campaign, which is desperate to avoid another embarrassment as his prospects for a second term dim. The struggle to stage the giant raucous rallies that propelled Trump's 2016 run makes clear just how difficult his second campaign has become," said the Times report.
But even before that, things weren't going well for the Trump team.
"People recognize there's been a rough patch, and it's been a challenging month or so," the Times cited a former administration official. "That rally in Tulsa did not go well by any stretch, by any measure."
The campaign has considered changing staff around, but it's unclear who else is left in politics who might be willing to hitch their reputation to a losing campaign from an unpopular president.
"They are pinning their hopes on the possibility that Trump or the broader political and economic environment will somehow change in the next four months and that the magic of 2016, when Trump eked out a narrow win at the wire, will repeat itself in his face-off against Joe Biden," the report said.
Trump campaign officials think that because he was able to turn things around in October 2016, he'll do it again in 2020. The problem, however, is that in 2016 Trump didn't have four years of leadership under his belt. American voters didn't know what to expect from him. Now, the country has been thrown into economic chaos that will take years to recover from and failed leadership in a pandemic that has impacted millions of families.
"Everybody is concerned but way more optimistic than they were a month ago. If you can win each day, that's kind of what we need to get back to," the Trump official added. It's a tall order as the president continues to rage-tweet about every grievance from Black Lives Matter to Bubba Wallace and NASCAR to calling the virus a hoax aimed to destroy him.
"He bungled the virus response, and he doesn't want to deal with it anymore," said Ed Rollins, a veteran of several GOP presidential campaigns. "He needs someone on his campaign who is really in charge and can dictate the strategy and message to the candidate."
Advisers think that if Trump continues his "law and order" campaign and his demand that schools reopen that he'll be able to get suburban voters back. His problem is that caution and nuance isn't exactly Trump's strength.
"Moms want kids back in school and have support for police and other institutions," the campaign official told the LA Times, predicting a "backlash... in suburbia" that will bring back women.
The issue is understandably more complex. Moms want kids back in schools, but not at the expense of the lives of their children and families. They're well aware that children can be super-spreaders of viruses. If schools can't stop lice outbreaks, how can parents be reassured they can protect children from COVID-19? If schools across the country reopen in August and September and the virus explodes again within three to four weeks, not only is Trump's reign over, the whole country will face a much more serious outbreak than the U.S. has so far.
A Reuters poll shows that two-thirds of Americans believe the U.S. is "on the wrong track," with Trump's approval rating at just 37 percent.
"They're losing voters over the age of 65 who are worried about the virus and not seeing any empathy from this president," said Rollins. "And if you become anti-Black, that turns off the suburban women."
When it comes to battles with Biden, Trump aides think that they can turn the former vice president into a joke. The problem, of course, is that for every Biden gaffe, there are 10 Trump gaffes that are far worse. Biden, who has a stutter, can sometimes fumble his words, where Trump told people to inject disinfectant into their bodies to fight COVID-19.
When asked about Biden's comments about Trump's mental acuity, Trump bragged that doctors were "surprised" that he could pass a dementia test. It isn't exactly a ringing endorsement.
"He had no idea that he fumbled the Hannity question," said a person who talks to Trump often. "Probably because someone told him he had 5 million viewers, and that was a win."
"It's becoming a five-alarm fire back there, and he's really heated up, and everyone's afraid to piss him off," the advisor said. "It's risky because he needs someone to say it's not all good. We're not winning."
Still, Trump thinks he has a genius strategy, and he's moving forward with it.