By JILL COLVIN, WILL WEISSERT and ZEKE MILLER Associated Press
PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — President Donald Trump came out swinging Monday against Dr. Anthony Fauci and polls that show Trump trailing Democrat Joe Biden in key battleground states, as he tried to buck up his campaign team two weeks out from Election Day.
Back on the trail after his COVID-19 infection, Trump was facing intense pressure to turn around his campaign, hoping for the type of last-minute surge that revived his candidacy four years ago and plunging into an aggressive travel schedule despite the pandemic. But his lack of a consistent message, newly surging virus cases and his attacks on experts like Fauci could undermine his final efforts to appeal to voters outside his most loyal base.
Trump insisted to supporters that he believes he will still win another term, though allowing that he didn’t have that same sense of confidence two weeks ago when he was hospitalized for treatment for the virus. Seeking to shore up the morale of his staff, Trump blasted his government’s own scientific experts as too negative, even as his handling of the pandemic that has killed nearly 220,000 Americans remains a central issue to voters.
“People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots,” Trump said of the government’s top infectious disease expert. “Every time he goes on television, there’s always a bomb. but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him. But Fauci’s a disaster.”
The doctor is both respected and popular, and Trump’s rejection of scientific advice on the pandemic has already drawn bipartisan condemnation.
Fauci, in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, said he was not surprised that Trump contracted the virus after he held large events with few face coverings. Fauci also objected to the president’s campaign using his words in a campaign ad.
“I was worried that he was going to get sick when I saw him in a completely precarious situation of crowded, no separation between people, and almost nobody wearing a mask,” Fauci said of the president.
Trump’s comments drew a defense of the scientist from Tennessee GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander, who praised Fauci as one of the nation’s “most distinguished public servants.”
As Trump turned his flouting of scientific advice into a campaign applause line, Alexander added concerning Fauci, “If more Americans paid attention to his advice, we’d have fewer cases of COVID-19, and it would be safer to go back to school and back to work and out to eat.”
Biden was off the trail on Monday, but his campaign said in a statement:
“Trump’s closing message in the final days of the 2020 race is to publicly mock Joe Biden for trusting science and to call Dr. Fauci, the leading public health official on COVID-19, a ‘disaster’ and other public health officials ‘idiots.'”
“Trump is mocking Biden for listening to science. Science. The best tool we have to keep Americans safe, while Trump’s reckless and negligent leadership threatens to put more lives at risk.”
Trump held his call with campaign staffers from Las Vegas, where he was on the third day of a western campaign swing. He was to hold Arizona rallies in Prescott and Tucson later in the day before returning to the White House.
“Get off this phone and work your asses off,” he told campaign organizers.
Monday’s professed confidence in victory stood in contrast to some of Trump’s other public comments in recent days reflecting on the prospect that he could lose.
“If Crazy Joe becomes president, it’s not even conceivable,” he told a rally crowd in Janesville, Wisconsin, over the weekend. “Running against him, it puts such pressure because I’m running against the worst in the history. … If I lose, I will have lost to the worst candidate, the worst candidate in the history of presidential politics. If I lose, what do I do? I’d rather run against somebody who’s extraordinarily talented, at least, this way I can go and lead my life.”
Last week, Trump asked a crowd in Macon, Georgia: “Could you imagine if I lose my whole life? What am I going to do? I’m going to say I lost to the worst candidate in the history of politics, I’m not going to feel so good. Maybe I’ll have to leave the country. I don’t know.”
On Sunday, he expressed confusion that he could possibly be tied with Biden in Nevada — where polls actually show Trump trailing.
“How the hell can we be tied?” he said at a rally in Carson City. “What’s going on? … We get these massive crowds. He gets nobody. And then they say we’re tied. … It doesn’t make sense.”
Biden, meanwhile, was in Delaware for several days of preparation ahead of Thursday’s final presidential debate. His running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, was returning to the campaign trail after several days in Washington after a close adviser tested positive for the coronavirus.
In addition to public polling that indicates Biden has an edge, the former vice president enjoys another considerable advantage over Trump: money.
Trump raked in $12 million during a fundraiser Sunday afternoon at the Newport Beach home of top GOP donor and tech mogul Palmer Luckey, which also featured a performance by the Beach Boys.
But over the past four months, Biden has raised over $1 billion, a massive amount of money that has eclipsed Trump’s once-overwhelming cash advantage.
That’s become apparent in advertising, where Biden and his Democratic allies are on pace to spend twice as much as Trump and the Republicans in the closing days of the race, according to data from the ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG.
“We have more than sufficient air cover, almost three times as much as 2016,” said Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, who insisted Trump has the advantage with the campaign’s field staff and data targeting.
Though Trump has pulled back from advertising in Midwestern states that secured his 2016 win, he’s invested heavily elsewhere, including North Carolina, where he is on pace to slightly outspend Biden.
In Nevada, which Trump came close to winning in 2016, Democrats are set to outspend Trump in the closing days by a more than 3-to-1 ratio.
Trump argued that his rallies could help make up the difference in states that remain close.
“Where we have states that are sort of tipping, could go either way,” he said. “I have an ability to go to those states and rally. Biden has no ability, I go to a rally we have 25,000 people. He goes to a rally and he has four people.”
“Every RALLY is BOFFO,” he tweeted later.
Trump’s visit to the state is part of an aggressive schedule of campaign events, where he has leaned heavily into fear tactics.
Besides raising images of burning suburbs, in his Carson City rally he went on an extended riff about water management policy, which he blamed for people having to “flush their toilet 15 times.”
Miller reported from Washington and Weissert from Wilmington, Delaware. Brian Slodysko in Washington contributed to this report.