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Commentary

Trailing in the polls, Trump is saying whatever he thinks might help him win reelection

President Trump at a rally in Michigan this week.
President Trump at a rally in Michigan this week.Evan Vucci/Associated Press

Remember in the weeks before the 2018 midterm elections, when President Trump warned about an “invasion of our country” from Central America? When all he ranted about at his rallies were “the caravans, the criminals, the smugglers, the trespassers marching toward our border”?

Migrants did eventually arrive at the border seeking asylum. But all those marauding caravans didn’t. And after the election, Trump rarely mentioned them again.

So it’s pretty rich that Trump now claims that the media coverage about the worsening coronavirus outbreak in the United States is actually a “Fake News Media Conspiracy” — a.k.a. a hoax — and “the topic will totally change” after the election.

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Jeez, project much?

Not that it needs to be said, but the record-breaking number of new cases, with a current seven-day daily average of nearly 70,000, is not a fabrication. Nor is it, as Trump tweeted Monday, because “we TEST, TEST, TEST.” Public health officials say the rate of positive tests and hospitalizations are both increasing in many states.

But since he’s trailing in the polls to Democratic nominee Joe Biden, Trump is saying whatever he thinks might help him get reelected. That apparently includes minimizing a deadly virus that’s already killed more than 226,000 Americans and could claim another 200,000 lives before an effective vaccine is widely available.

But those caravans from Central America? Now, those were terrifying.

If this seems like an odd strategy in the waning days of a campaign that has become a referendum on the Trump administration’s handling of the virus, it is. Instead of downplaying the pandemic, why not — I’m just spitballing here — try to reassure people who, like me, alternate between worried and panic-stricken. A little leadership would go a long way.

Then again, there’s little about the last days of Trump’s reelection campaign that feels rational. I mean, the guy who was hospitalized with COVID-19 is telling us it’s no big deal. And what about that bizarre campaign event he held at the White House on Monday night with newly confirmed Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. What was that? How many of the 12 million unemployed Americans struggling to pay their rent or mortgage watched that and thought: “Never mind another stimulus check, thank goodness we have a ninth justice.”

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Not too many, I’ll bet.

Still, to those who think Trump won’t win — or at least claim he won — I’m not so sure. Why do you think the Republicans raced to confirm Barrett, solidifying the court’s conservative majority, just eight days before the election? Maybe because they’re hoping she’ll be, as Mitch McConnell said on Fox News the other night, a “political asset.”

Estimable pollsters like Nate Silver say Biden maintains a healthy lead, yes. But it’s hardly insurmountable. And with Trump, things are not always as they seem.


Mark Shanahan can be reached at mark.shanahan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarkAShanahan.