Donald Trump and his campaign team are revising the president's 2020 re-election strategy in real-time with the coronavirus death toll in the United States over 61,000, and a major part is trying to further turn voters against China.
The president spent weeks referring to the deadly respiratory disease as "the Chinese virus," but dropped use of the term. He admitted there was a trade deal to think about. But as he increasingly lashes out at the Chinese government, it's clear there's something, for him, more important to consider: Four more years in the White House.
Mr Trump's national poll numbers against former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, tumbled this week after his suggestion last Thursday that Americans might inject disinfectant to kill Covid-19. The week brought more bad polling news for the incumbent: Mr Trump trails Mr Biden in six of seven expected battleground states that political operatives from both parties say will decide November's election.
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Only in North Carolina does Mr Trump have an advantage. But even in the Tar Heel State, which he won in 2016 by 3.6 points over former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the president's lead is only one-third of a single percentage point, according to an average of several polls tabulated by RealClearPolitics.
Mr Trump's own willingness to push or shatter the truth, dismiss scientific evidence, ignore the pleas of governors, and contradict his widely respected public health team during his now-paused daily coronavirus press briefings appear to have done as much to change the 2020 campaign as anything the virus did to the United States or Mr Biden has done since all but locking up the Democratic nomination.
Still, the president's miscalculation that the daily briefings were boosting his odds at a second term already is allowing him to shift to a campaign strategy that is starting to more closely resemble his 2016 "Make America Great Again" bid for the White House.
And a big part of the revised strategy is a willingness to directly blame the Chinese government for an US Covid-19 death toll equivalent to the capacity of Soldier Field for Chicago Bears games.
As part of a new White House communications strategy of getting the president out of the briefing room talking about fighting the virus's spread and into meetings with governors and industry executives to talk about reopening the country, Mr Trump has shown a new willingness to call out China by name.
"It's in 184 countries, as you hear me say often. It's hard to believe. It's inconceivable," he said during an event with small business owners and employees on Tuesday afternoon.
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