Predictions are risky these days, but I make this one confidently: President Trump's frantic desperation at the prospect of losing the election will only get worse. Probably much worse.
Another day, another flood of dangerous and offensive nonsense: In a single telephone interview Thursday with Fox Business Network, Trump vowed not to attend a virtual debate next week with his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, complaining that the moderator would actually be able to cut him off; called Biden's running mate, Sen. Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), a "monster" and a "communist," among other insults; and described himself as a "perfect physical specimen," saying he believed he had been "cured" of covid-19, a disease for which there is no known cure.
Trump also attacked two of his most loyal and obedient Cabinet members, Attorney General William P. Barr and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for not helping his political prospects by fabricating a criminal investigation of Biden and Hillary Clinton. Yes, he is still ranting about her emails.
Trump has two good reasons to panic. Foremost are the recent polls showing that his political support is clearly eroding. The RealClearPolitics poll average now shows him trailing Biden by 9.7 points nationally, which would be a landslide. Even Rasmussen Reports, usually Trump's most favorable pollster, released a survey this week showing Biden ahead by 12 points. Polls of likely voters in the battleground states also show that his prospects range, from Trump's point of view, between dismal and catastrophic.
The other calamity Trump faces is his own covid-19 diagnosis, one of dozens of cases in a growing cluster centered on the White House. Trump wants voters to believe his administration has done an outstanding job in handling the pandemic, despite the fact that the United States has suffered far more infections and deaths per capita than other wealthy countries. But it is hard to argue that covid-19 is under control when the most powerful, most heavily protected man in the nation became a victim of the pandemic and had to be flown by helicopter to the hospital.
Trump could have used his own illness to express empathy for the millions of other Americans who have been infected with the novel coronavirus — and sympathy for the 212,000 who have died. Instead, he tried to project defiance and strength. His made-for-television return to the White House on Monday — when he took off his mask and posed like an old-school Latin American strongman on the South Portico, visibly out of breath — had to be one of the weirdest moments in the history of the presidency.
Any other politician might step back and take a wider view. If Trump's covid-19 diagnosis caused his poll numbers to swoon, they might recover somewhat as his condition — one hopes — improves. If voters disapproved of his obnoxiousness during last week's debate against Biden, he could try a different approach next time. But Trump either hates to change course or doesn't know how. From every indication, he intends to plow straight ahead — never mind the cliff he is rapidly approaching.
The Republican senators Trump is dragging down with him have not yet cut him loose in an attempt to save themselves. But there are rustlings. If and when these endangered incumbents begin to assert their independence, you will know that Trump's collapse in the polls is real.
Still, however, it would not be time to breathe a sigh of relief. Not quite yet.
The fact that he's openly attacking Barr, Pompeo and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray tells me that he doesn't really expect them to concoct a bogus investigation of Biden before the election. But Barr, especially, appears more than willing to help in Trump's attempt to delegitimize any voting process that produces a Biden victory.
The most important thing we can do is vote. Republicans can make it inconvenient for voters to cast their ballots, but they can't make it impossible. Vote early by mail and track your ballot online. Vote early in person, wearing a mask and taking all precautions. Have a plan for Election Day, and follow through. Be patient, be determined, don't give up.
And as for Trump, let him howl at the moon all he wants. He's scared. And he has good reason to be.