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Trump's scorched earth style overshadows campaign's message in final weeks

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE's top campaign surrogates on Monday sought to project optimism about his chances for reelection next month.

But their message was overshadowed by the candidate himself, who took a more scorched earth approach.

“We feel better about our pathway to victory than we have at any point in the campaign this year,” campaign manager Bill StepienBill StepienFormer Trump campaign chief Parscale reportedly planning to write a book The Memo: Trump hits out as tide moves for Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Biden inches closer to victory MORE told reporters.

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“I’ve never seen energy like this. I’ve never seen momentum like this,” Republican National Committee (RNC) Chairwoman Ronna McDanielRonna Romney McDanielMichigan certifies Biden victory in another blow to Trump Sunday shows - Virus surge dominates ahead of fraught Thanksgiving holiday GOP chairwoman leans into election claims: Party will 'run down every single irregularity' MORE said.

The two cited increasing GOP voter registration in states like Florida and Pennsylvania and the enthusiasm at Trump’s rallies to argue that the president is locked in a close but eminently winnable race with Democratic nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  New DOJ rule could allow executions by electrocution, firing squad MORE.

Trump, on the other hand, had his attention elsewhere.

The president, in a call with thousands of campaign staffers, called the government’s top infectious diseases expert a “disaster,” ripped the media as “sick people,” suggested Biden “should be in jail,” and argued Americans are tired of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 215,000 people in the United States.

"We have never been in a stronger position than we are today," Trump said. "Now, bad things will happen. Fake stories will be written."

Before speaking at a pair of rallies in Arizona, Trump mocked Anthony FauciAnthony FauciUS COVID-19 cases reach past 13 million Fauci: Pandemic likely won't improve by Christmas, New Year's Vaccine skepticism emerges as early test for Biden MORE, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for throwing out a wayward first pitch three months ago and called a journalist a “criminal” for not reporting more aggressively on unproven allegations of corruption against Biden.

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“They’re getting tired of the pandemic, aren’t they,” Trump told a crowd of hundreds of unmasked supporters at a rally in Prescott. “You turn on CNN, that’s all they cover. COVID, COVID, pandemic, COVID, COVID, COVID … you know why? They’re trying to talk everybody out of voting. People aren’t buying it, CNN. You dumb bastards.”

The president’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has proven to be his greatest impediment in his reelection bid. The coronavirus has killed more than 215,000 people in the United States. Public polling has consistently shown voters do not trust what Trump says about the virus. The president has repeatedly contradicted his own health experts, and he spent three days in the hospital with the virus after holding numerous events with large crowds and few masks.

Trump’s messaging Monday was something of a microcosm for the closing stretch of the race. While Republican lawmakers and the president’s campaign focus on more traditional data and appeals in the final stretch of the race, the president often harps on what appeals most to his base and lashes out over a particular controversy.

One former campaign adviser lamented that Trump had veered away from the issues of trade and immigration that proved successful for him in 2016.

“The economic news is improving and the Supreme Court confirmation is definitely positive for mobilizing the base,” said Dan Eberhart, a GOP fundraiser. “You have to think they are wondering what might happen if they give Trump another four years.

“But that’s not going to extend the map, and that’s where I see the fundamental problem,” he continued. “We definitely need to turn out our base, but beyond that I don’t see the president able to attract new voters.”

The state of the presidential race has largely remained unchanged for the last few months after Biden secured the Democratic Party’s nomination, and Trump is running out of time to meaningfully change the trajectory of the election.

A RealClearPolitics average of polls shows that Trump has struggled to get closer than 3 percentage points down to Biden in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania since June. Trump won all three states by less than 65,000 votes combined in 2016.

Polling in Florida and North Carolina, two states critical for Trump, show a tight race separated by just a few points. A Florida poll from The Hill-Harris released last week showed the two candidates tied in Florida, while an Emerson College poll showed Trump and Biden deadlocked in North Carolina. 

“There are no more undecideds,” Eberhart said. “Add to that fact that Democrats are highly motivated, and it looks like the outcome is set. Trump has surprised everyone before, though.”

The Trump campaign remains confident, however, that a path exists to 270 electoral votes. Stepien was adamant Monday that Trump would win Florida, and he even insisted the president would flip Nevada.

Stepien joked that he found a rare area of agreement with the Biden campaign, which urged voters last week not to get complacent and cautioned that the election was “a lot closer” than it may appear.

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The Trump campaign and the RNC are spending $55 million in a final advertising blitz that will target Arizona, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin. And Stepien and other aides have repeatedly pointed to increases in GOP voter registration in states like Pennsylvania and Florida as an overlooked indicator of enthusiasm for Trump.

“We have the better candidate, we’re running the better campaign, we know the pathway to get us to 270,” Stepien said.

Trump himself has teetered at times in recent days between unbridled optimism and a realization that he may be a one-term president. He mused at a Georgia rally last week that he would have to leave the country if he lost to Biden, whom he described as “the worst candidate in the history of presidential politics.”

On Monday, between rants about The New York Times and broadsides against Fauci, Trump encouraged campaign staff to “work your asses off, because we're going to win.”

"We're going to win,” he said. “I wouldn't have told you that maybe two or three weeks ago.”