In Lansing, for his first rally, Trump added leather gloves to his blue overcoat. He looked cold, as did the MAGA-masked white people arrayed behind him. Trump read the clichéd tripe on his teleprompter about the greatness of Michigan and its auto plants and its Motown music, then interjected unscripted commentaries. Most of the official program—at this and all of his rallies—is just the same old untrue Trump stories, repeated over and over. About the “China virus,” and the greatest economy in the history of the world, and all the wonderful things he’s done for veterans and the Second Amendment. The interjections are where Trump makes news, by saying some new silly or outrageous or offensive thing. In Lansing, this was a riff in which he appealed, once again, to the suburban women whom he has been courting to no avail. Trump seemed incredulous that his nineteen-fifties-vintage pitch to these “housewives” hasn’t succeeded. “Your husbands, they want to get back to work, right?” he said. “We’re getting your husbands back to work.” For a few minutes, this was much discussed on Twitter, until the next Trump provocation, of which there were many—such as Trump attacking Michigan’s Governor, Gretchen Whitmer, and questioning whether the plotters accused of planning to kidnap Whitmer and storm the state capitol had actually been plotting anything.
At the end of the rally, Trump lumbered around the stage as the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.” played, pumping his fists and doing a bit of a dance. He is always seeking to replay his greatest hits, and a version of this dance went viral a week ago, with teen-age girls mocking him on TikTok and everything. But Trump is immune to embarrassment. As long as people are talking about his dance, he will keep doing it. All publicity is still good publicity to the Donald.
Wednesday, October 28th
Once again, Trump began the day with COVID denialism: “Covid, Covid, Covid is the unified chant of the Fake News Lamestream Media. They will talk about nothing else until November 4th., when the Election will be (hopefully!) over. Then the talk will be how low the death rate is, plenty of hospital rooms, & many tests of young people.” Trump tweeted this from Nevada, where it was just after 5 a.m. when he sent it.
Nothing has come to represent the Trump era more than his late-night and early-morning Twitter rants, signs not only of his fragile, undisciplined ego but also of the hold he has managed to maintain over our collective consciousness. There is no news cycle without Trump. Is it really possible it could all be over in a matter of days? What would it be like to wake up and not have to read some deranged or dangerous or merely nasty thing that the President has said? Biden has taken to promising explicitly that this will be the case. “If I’m elected, you won’t have to worry about my tweets,” he’s started saying. As much as anything, voting for Biden would be a life-style choice, a decision by Americans to shrink the Presidency back into its pre-Trump space in the national psyche.
The President’s schedule called for him to go to Arizona for two rallies and then on to Florida, where, the next day, he and Biden would both be in Tampa. Trump draws large, enthusiastic crowds in most of these places, but I still wonder whether these rallies may be hurting him as much as they are helping him. For one thing, there are the headlines that now accompany many of the gatherings, about furious local officials who want them stopped amid the pandemic. And there is the jarring incongruity of thousands of Trump supporters packed closely together while coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are spiking around the country—often most sharply in the states where Trump is holding the rallies. In Wisconsin, where Trump had held a rally the day before, the main headline in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Wednesday morning was about another awful milestone: a day of record deaths in the state, even as Trump was there, demanding that the governor “open it up.” “Worst Day Yet, Again,” the paper said. In Omaha, on Tuesday night, Trump had left behind hundreds of supporters at the airfield where he held his rally; when too few shuttle buses showed up to take them to their cars, many walked nearly four miles in the freezing cold. Several were taken to local hospitals with hypothermia. The headlines, needless to say, were not about Trump making Nebraska great again. The chaos and suffering inflicted on his own supporters, so that Trump could stage an ego-gratifying party for himself, seemed like a metaphor for his entire Presidency.
My morning check of the election-projection sites—which I wish did not exist after the trauma of 2016, but they do, so of course I have not resisted looking at them—showed that, over the past few days, Biden had ticked up two points on FiveThirtyEight, which predicts he now has an eighty-eight-per-cent chance of winning. The RealClearPolitics average had Biden up nationally by seven points. In previous campaigns, the RealClearPolitics average has been as close as 0.4 percentage points of the final results (Bush-Kerry, in 2004, and Trump-Clinton, four years ago) and been off by as much as four (Obama-Romney, in 2012). So Biden could win by as little as three points—or as much as eleven. A nail-biter, in other words, or a landslide. Which is not really much help at all. A new Washington Post poll in Wisconsin, on Wednesday, had Biden up by seventeen points. But that can’t be right, can it?
Around 1 P.M. local time, Air Force One pulled up on the tarmac in Bullhead City, Arizona. “Macho Man” was playing as the crowd waited for Trump. For four years, his insistence on a playlist heavy on the Village People has simply been one of those ridiculous things about a Trump rally. The man knows no irony. The song may have originated as a gay anthem, but to Trump it is just a celebration of his alpha-maleness. “You’re so lucky I’m your President!” Trump said, after a long rant about Biden’s flaws. Then there was a riff on his own hair, and how it’s his real hair, and how it was so windy out, and then Trump took a red “Make America Great Again” hat from someone and put it on. Is this what passes for macho among his supporters?
Soon, Trump reached the Hillary Clinton-bashing part of the rally, now a nostalgic hit of his tough-guy act. The only new twist these days is that, when Trump mentions his 2016 opponent, he praises Clinton as smarter and sharper than Biden, whom Trump invariably portrays as a senile, dribbling idiot. “Isn’t it nice to have a President that doesn’t need a teleprompter?” Trump said. “We love Trump,” the crowd responded. That, of course, is the part of every rally that Trump loves the most, and which often leads him to claim that no President, not even the Republican icon Ronald Reagan, has ever got crowds like his. Speaking of crowds, Trump wanted his audience to know that this one was much bigger than what “Barack Hussein Obama” had when he campaigned against Trump on Tuesday. Trump, four years later, is still obsessed with Obama.
Obama, in recent days, has landed some real scorchers on Trump. “He’s jealous of COVID’s media coverage,” the former President has been saying. Obama has taken particular delight in mocking Trump’s obsession with crowd size: “Did nobody come to his birthday party when he was a kid?” Trump, for his part, rarely has such crisp one-liners. He is like a standup comedian without the jokes, who just talks and talks and talks. Instead of comedy, he has name-calling: Biden is stupid, sleepy, spent. “If you have to fight somebody, that’s your dream fight,” Trump said, of Biden, at his Arizona rally. This, inevitably, led to another long discourse about how unfair it was that he, Trump, “got impeached over a telephone call,” while no one was taking seriously the real corruption of the Biden family. As the President went on and on about this, there were only sparse cheers from the crowd, though several times throughout the week I had seen them chant “Lock him up! Lock him up!,” even if it wasn’t clear what they thought Biden should be locked up for. I thought of Senator Ted Cruz’s comment to the Axios reporter Jonathan Swan, after the two watched the second debate together. Cruz told Swan that he didn’t think Trump’s rants about Hunter Biden and corruption would move a single vote.
Thursday, October 29th
With five days to go until the election, Trump and Biden were both going to Florida, for duelling rallies in Tampa. The race there is too close to call, and the country is haunted by the idea of another post-election recount in Florida, as in 2000. The difference between now and then is that, two decades ago, both candidates were (a) shocked that a Presidential election had come down to a tie and (b) eager to reassure Americans after a partisan, rancorous recount. When it was over, Al Gore gave a gracious concession speech. George W. Bush gave a gracious acceptance speech. We should be so lucky this time.
Biden’s theme in Florida is the same one he has had for months: Trump has failed to deal with the pandemic. This is a primary reason that Biden is competitive in the state, where polls suggest that some senior citizens who backed Trump four years ago have shifted toward Biden, a Democrat whose message is not that they should be willing to die in order to help America’s economy bounce back. “He is doing nothing,” Biden said, in Florida. “Donald Trump has waved the white flag, abandoned our families, and surrendered to the virus.”
Over at his Tampa rally, Trump said he was beating the virus, not giving up in the face of it. “You know the bottom line, though?” the President said. “You’re gonna get better. You’re gonna get better.” In Trump’s telling, there are no victims of the disease, only winners like himself. “If I can get better, anybody can get better,” he said. “And I got better fast.”
On Thursday night, Trump’s son Donald, Jr., was on Fox News with Laura Ingraham, one of the Trumps’ favorite prime-time hosts. He told Ingraham that, in fact, coronavirus deaths had dwindled to “almost nothing,” on a day when the U.S. once again hit a record for new cases and more than a thousand Americans died of the virus. Ingraham did not challenge him.
Friday, October 30th
No question that Trump is worried. Turns out he can’t sleep, either. He is doomscrolling and anxiety-tweeting overnight, just like the rest of the country. At 2:34 a.m., he tweeted, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. VOTE!” At 2:37 a.m., he tweeted, “#Bidencrimefamily.” At 2:40 a.m., he tweeted, “Biden will destroy the United States Supreme Court.” Soon after that, he was ranting about a Biden plan for the Supreme Court so diabolical that it would apparently involve not only a packed court but a “REVOLVING COURT,” whatever that is. The time stamp on the tweet was 2:57 a.m. I guess it’s sort of comforting to know that he, too, is having nightmares about the election. But, no matter what tangents Trump goes off on in his final week as a candidate for President, he invariably returns to the coronavirus. This morning, shortly after eight, he agreed with Don, Jr., that deaths are “WAY DOWN.” I still have a hard time imagining that this is a good message to be taking to the voters.
Trump had three rallies planned on this last preëlection Friday, in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, the only state he was to visit in the final week that he did not win four years ago. The day started in Michigan’s Oakland County, where Trump seemed delighted when he spotted Ingraham and told the crowd that the Fox host would be following him around for Friday’s rallies, like a groupie who had been invited to join the road show for Trump’s aging-rocker tour. But he seemed shocked that Ingraham was wearing a mask. “I’ve never seen you in a mask,” he said. He chided her for being “politically correct.” It was a revealing moment: Trump clearly does not think that someone might wear a mask to protect themselves in the midst of an escalating pandemic, not even on a day which set a record high of nearly a hundred thousand new cases. Everything is about the politics, about the election, about him.
An hour after the rally, I could not stop thinking about the most remarkable moment from it: Trump accusing U.S. doctors of artificially inflating the number of COVID deaths in order to somehow collect money. “You know, our doctors get more money if somebody dies from COVID,” he claimed. “You know that, right?” He even joked about it, imagining himself, I guess, as a doctor pulling off this scam: “With us, ‘when in doubt, choose COVID.’ . . . You get, like, two thousand dollars more. It’s true.” I cannot think of a better illustration of Trump’s cynical world view: everything is a scam, corrupt, not on the level. “It’s true,” he said, over and over—which, of course, was one of many tells that it was not.
As I was reflecting on this, Trump had already flown to his next stop, in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “You are so lucky I am your President,” Trump said, as I turned on the live stream. It was jarring to see the packed crowd, many not in masks, and to realize how badly the hospitals in Wisconsin are doing—overwhelmed with patients, in a crisis that Trump says does not exist. State officials have called it a “nightmare scenario.” Nonetheless, one of the biggest cheers came when Trump said, “Hey, governor, you’ve got to open up your state.” When Trump bragged about how quickly he got better from COVID, the crowd chanted, “Superman! Superman!” The President loved it. While Trump was talking, an e-mail came into my in-box: the Times’ nightly coronavirus briefing. “The worst week yet,” the headline read.
Saturday, October 31st
On Halloween, Trump arrived before noon for the first of four rallies in Pennsylvania. The event was staged in front of the headquarters where George Washington planned the crossing of the Delaware River, which saved his Army from what looked like certain defeat, in late 1776. “Three days from now, this is the state that will save the American Dream,” Trump said. But Trump is still behind—narrowly—in Pennsylvania, and the rally was in Bucks County, home of the type of Republican suburban women who have been deserting him.
The President seemed much more subdued, low-energy even. Was it the small crowd size? The bad polls? Even his nasty asides about Nancy Pelosi and Biden and fake news sounded less gleeful than usual. He did have a new target, a surprising one: the Supreme Court, which he has filled with three appointees, creating a new six-to-three conservative majority. Earlier in the week, Trump had been ebullient over Barrett’s confirmation so close to the election. But, in a recent ruling, the Justices—minus Barrett, who did not participate—had voted to allow the counting of absentee ballots received after Election Day in North Carolina, in accordance with the state’s laws. Trump saw it as a betrayal. “That is a terrible, political, horrible decision that they made. . . . This is a horrible thing the Supreme Court has done to our country,” he said. “We have to know who won” on Election Night, he insisted, though counting has never before been completed on Election Night. He warned of “bedlam” in the country as it waits for results, in what seemed more than a little like a self-fulfilling prophecy.