President Donald Trump has privately encouraged senior officials and outside allies to undermine Dr. Anthony Fauci throughout the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new report.
Three sources told The Daily Beast that White House trade adviser Peter Navarro hadn't "gone rogue" by attacking Fauci's credibility in an op-ed, as the White House press office claimed, but had likely followed orders from the president.
The president's staff has spent considerable efforts to boost Trump's morale as Joe Biden continues to widen his lead in the polls, according to current and former administration officials.
“There are probably things that the campaign and the White House do to mollify Trump, and if those things result in a net benefit for the president and his campaign, then they are worth doing,” said one former White House official.
In addition to undermining Fauci, who has enjoyed broad public support for his efforts against the coronavirus pandemic, Trump's advisers and allies have assured him the bad poll numbers are fake and that adoring crowds are out there waiting for him.
The president particularly loves to see images and videos of "beautiful boaters" flying Trump flags in flotillas, which he sees as a sign he'll beat Biden, and he has encouraged officials to keep showing them to him -- and push them out on their social media accounts.
“Are we polling the boaters yet?” Trump asked in a meeting last month, according to a source, although another source insisted he was only "joking."
Those efforts turned up in remarks the president made Tuesday at a news conference.
“I think we have really good poll numbers,” Trump told reporters. “They’re not suppression polls; they’re real polls. You look at the Intracoastal in Florida. You look at the lakes. You see thousands of boats with Trump signs.”
However, top Trump pollster John McLaughlin conceded there aren't actually enough boaters to push the president over the top in his re-election campaign, but he named some other demographics whose support doesn't always show up in public polls.
"We also do well with bikers, NASCAR fans, NFL, college and high school tailgaters, golfers, aviators, RV people, campers, [and] homeowners,” he said.
Political aides have slipped some less reputable polls into the president's reading materials in recent weeks, and they showered him with praise for finally wearing a mask in public in hopes that he'd do it again.
But they've also spent considerable amounts of money to air pro-Trump campaign ads in the Washington, D.C., area -- not so much to persuade the region's heavily Democratic voting base, but to cheer up the notoriously TV-focused president.
The campaign has tried mightily to get Trump back in front of adoring rally-goers, but the coronavirus pandemic has made even the president's strongest supporters wary of packing into indoor arenas, so staffers have tried to cheer him up by bragging about his TV ratings.
The president always asks aides to brief him on ratings whenever he appears on TV for an event or interview, according to a current and former administration official, and seems to delight at the reports.
“Often, they wouldn’t send him the actual numbers but just transmit back something like, ‘They were fantastic, you won,’" said former political adviser Sam Nunberg. "He kept very close track of his ratings and always wanted the numbers so he could tweet them.”