Trump campaign scrambled by president’s hospitalization
President Trump’s campaign is scrambling to adjust to the president being sidelined by the coronavirus at a critical moment in his bid for a second term.
A campaign that has relied heavily on the candidate ginning up enthusiasm at in-person events will have to make do with virtual events and campaign trail stand-ins as the president recovers at Walter Reed National Medical Center.
New polls released over the weekend show Democratic nominee Joe Biden expanding his lead over Trump nationally and in key battleground states, raising concerns among Republicans that the party could be facing heavy losses on Nov. 3 that might cost them the White House and a majority in the Senate.
Trump had planned to hit the road for most of this week in an effort to turn the tide.
Instead, the Trump campaign has launched “Operation MAGA” to get Vice President Pence, members of the first family and the campaign’s team of surrogates and coalitions in front of voters at virtual and in-person events.
Doctors say Trump could be released as early as Monday, although the president’s health remains in question. Trump needed supplemental oxygen over the weekend and it’s unclear when he’ll be healthy enough to campaign virtually, much less at in-person events.
The Trump campaign has a robust network of high-profile surrogates that have supplemented the president’s stops throughout the coronavirus lockdown on television and digital platforms. The Republican National Committee is overseeing a massive get-out-the-vote effort.
But for Trump’s base of supporters, none of that compares to the real thing.
The best-case scenario for Trump is that he’d be able to resume travel late next week, costing him valuable time in a race where Biden appears to have a substantial lead as the clock ticks down toward Election Day.
One former White House official said the rallies would be difficult to replace, both because they are Trump’s main form of campaigning and because it boosts the president’s psyche.
The official said Trump feeds off the crowds that show up for his rallies.
“It projects a winning atmosphere, a winning vibe that people want to be associated with, and it’s good for him and his own barometer of how people are responding,” the official said.
That dynamic was on full display on Sunday evening, when the president elicited outrage over an impromptu trip he made in a motorcade to wave at the supporters who gathered outside the hospital.
Patients who test positive for COVID-19 are supposed to self-isolate for 10 days once their symptoms appear.
James Phillips, an attending physician at Walter Reed, said Trump was endangering the lives of others and the stunt was “insanity” for the sake of “political theater.”
Despite the pandemic, Trump had ramped up his travel schedule to levels similar to his 2016 campaign, when he hit multiple states in a day. He was set to rally in Florida, Wisconsin, Texas and Arizona this week. Now, those events will be put on hold.
In a strange twist, the Biden campaign is suddenly the most active on the campaign trail.
The Biden campaign had been criticized for playing it too safe by limiting the candidate’s travel and refusing to allow volunteers to canvas the battleground states in person.
After Biden tested negative for the coronavirus on Friday, the campaign moved forward with his planned visit to Michigan. The campaign also resumed in-person volunteer work across the battleground states this week.
On Monday, Biden will deliver remarks at two stops in Miami, followed by an NBC News town hall event.
Trump is facing new hurdles as he seeks to catch Biden.
Key members of Trump’s campaign team have fallen ill with the coronavirus, including campaign manager Bill Stepien and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel.
The status of the Oct. 15 debate, which was scheduled to be an in-person town hall event, is up in the air.
Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller hit the Sunday show circuit to talk about how the campaign would fill Trump’s void.
Miller said that following Wednesday’s vice presidential debate, Pence would hit the trail for in-person events in Utah, Arizona and Nevada. He said members of the first family would begin conducting virtual rallies on Monday and in-person events on Wednesday.
More than 50 surrogates, including coalition leaders for women, Black people and Latinos, will be dispatched across the country to “flood the zone in the battleground states.”
“Operation MAGA will fire up the entire MAGA universe to keep President Trump’s campaign at full speed until our Commander-in-Chief returns to the campaign trail,” Stepien said in a statement. “Vice President Mike Pence, the First Family, our coalitions, and our grassroots supporters will be out in full force to show the real enthusiasm behind the President’s re-election and to show we’re working as hard as he always does.”
The president’s GOP allies say the best-case scenario would be for him to recover in time for a triumphant comeback against Biden at the debate in mid-October. At this point, however, that debate looks uncertain with Trump in the hospital 10 days before he would next meet Biden on stage.
The president’s campaign has looked past unfavorable poll numbers in recent weeks that show him trailing Biden nationally and in swing states like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania, instead arguing that the enthusiasm gap between the two candidates was more telling.
They pointed to the massive turnout for Trump rallies, as well as smaller events when Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Lara Trump and other surrogates were on the road.