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Down in polls, Trump won't agree to accept voters' verdict

President Donald Trump in March and presumptive Democratic

President Donald Trump in March and presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden in February. Credit: Composite: AFP via Getty Images / Saul Loeb and Ronda Churchill

Trump: Won't 'fake' me out

The election is more than three months away, but President Donald Trump is already laying out a case for why he might not accept the voters' verdict if Joe Biden wins.

"I think mail-in voting is going to rig the election. I really do," a combative Trump said during a wide-ranging interview recorded late last week and shown on "Fox News Sunday."

Many fellow Republicans have parted ways with Trump's resistance to expanded mail balloting amid the coronavirus pandemic. The Associated Press reports that a scramble is underway across the country to find people willing to staff polling sites. Typically, most are over 60. But Trump is ready to cry foul if Biden is on top.

"I have to see," he told host Chris Wallace. "No, I’m not going to just say 'yes.' I’m not going to say 'no.' And I didn’t last time, either.”

Two new polls Sunday showed Trump trailing. The Washington Post/ABC News survey has Biden with an expanded lead, ahead by 15 points — 55% to 40% — among registered voters and up 11 points among those who say they are definite voters. Wallace gave him the results of a Fox News poll that showed a slight improvement for him, behind 8 points now, compared with 12 points in June. The president didn't accept that either. "I'm not losing, because those are fake polls," Trump said.

Whether he ends up serving one term or two, Trump was asked: How will he regard his years as president? His answer indicates that in his own mind, it will be a legacy largely of grievance and an unrequited thirst for revenge against his foes.

"I think I was very unfairly treated. From before I even won, I was under investigation by a bunch of thieves, crooks. It was an illegal investigation … Russia, Russia, Russia. I have done more than any president in history in the first three and a half years, and I’ve done it suffering through investigations … where people have been so unfairly treated … If it were the other way around, the people would be in jail for 50 years right now." In a tweet later Sunday, he suggested Biden and former President Barack Obama should be among those locked up for "treason."

No safe space with debunker

In Trump's telling, he wasn't wrong on the coronavirus — just early. Like in January, when he said, "It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control." Or in February, when he said of the U.S. figures: "You have 15 people. And the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero." That was 3.7 million cases and over 140,000 deaths ago.

"I'll be right eventually. I will be right eventually. You know I said, 'It's going to disappear.' I'll say it again," he said when pressed by Wallace. 

Don't his past predictions discredit him? "I don't think so. I don't think so. You know why? Because I've been right probably more than anybody else," Trump said. He also called Dr. Anthony Fauci an "alarmist" at one point in the interview; at another, he claimed Fauci said early on, "Don’t worry about it. This will pass.” What the government's top infectious diseases expert actually said in February was: “Right now, the risk is still low, but this could change."

Trump claimed "everybody" thought warmer weather would provide a respite and "they got that one wrong." The first prominent person to make that prognostication was Trump himself, amid broad skepticism.

Trump boasted about ramped-up testing efforts, while also grousing "we are creating trouble for the fake news to come along and say, ‘Oh, we have more cases.’ ” Wallace noted that while testing is up 37%, COVID-19 cases are up 194%. "It isn’t just that testing has gone up. The virus has spread,” Wallace said. Trump said many of the new victims are "young people that would heal in a day. They have the sniffles, and we put it down as a test."

Trump also claimed the U.S. has "one of the lowest mortality rates" from the coronavirus in the world. "That's not true, sir," said Wallace, pointing to stats that shows it's seventh-highest. For more on the Trump-Wallace showdown on the coronavirus, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez. Here's a Fox News transcript of the interview. The full 40-minute interview is on video here; view excerpts here.

Abolish? Demolished

Trump didn't do any better with Wallace when he repeated his claim that Biden wants to "defund" and "abolish" the police. The president contended that Biden said so in a policy agreement with former rival Bernie Sanders.

"Sir, he does not," the Fox host told him.

"Oh, really? It says 'abolish' — let's go, get me the charter, please!" Trump said, motioning for aides to bring him the agreement. He didn't find it there but vowed, "We'll find it."

Wallace added in a postscript: “The White House never sent us evidence the Bernie-Biden platform calls for defunding or abolishing police — because there is none. It calls for increased funding for police departments — that meet certain standards. Biden has called for redirecting some police funding for related programs — like mental health counseling.”

Trump attacked Biden on other fronts, calling him "not competent to be president," claiming he "wants to ruin our country," that he "can't put two sentences together" and that he couldn't handle such a news media grilling. "Let Biden sit through an interview like this, he’ll be on the ground crying for mommy. He’ll say, ‘Mommy, mommy, please take me home,’ ” Trump said.

Janison: Oppo on the cheapo

Trump's fondness over the years for getting others to bankroll things that he wants might also apply to what political professionals call opposition research, writes Newsday's Dan Janison. After all, finding the goods to plausibly attack an opponent's character can be expensive.

In 2016, Trump seemed to get major "oppo research" for free when WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, a Clinton nemesis, published private Democratic emails hacked by Russian operatives.

Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and two now-indicted associates tried to find evidence from Biden's son Hunter's Ukraine dealings that they claimed would implicate the Democratic candidate as corrupt — a quest also pursed by some Trump allies on Congress.

Taxpayers can be relied on to finance Trump's research interests on another front beyond the Senate probe. Attorney General William Barr announced nearly a month ago on Fox News that Connecticut U.S. Attorney John Durham's investigation of the Russia probe's origins would yield "developments" before the summer is over.

Beware of 'who knows'

With Trump trying to revive his fortunes with white suburban voters, it wasn't hard to decode his message in a "tele-town hall" with Wisconsin voters Saturday night during an attack on fair-housing rules that are intended to promote diversity.

“They're going to bring people, eliminate single-family zoning, they want to eliminate single-family zoning, bringing who knows into your suburbs, so your communities will be unsafe and your housing values will go down,” the president said, referring to Democrats.

In the same vein, he indicated in the Wallace interview that he's dug in against removing the names of Confederate military leaders from Army bases and facilities like Fort Bragg. When reminded that top Pentagon officials favor the change, Trump snapped back: "I don’t care what the military says. I do — I’m supposed to make the decision."

"We’re going to name it after the Reverend Al Sharpton?" Trump said. No one has suggested Sharpton. There have been public calls across the country to rename the bases for people who fought for the United States and not against it, including heroes of color.

Later, Sharpton offered some ideas on MSNBC: "Why not name it after people that served in the military for this country, rather than traitors? Name it after Crispus Attucks, the first person in the American Revolution to die to make the country free? He was a Black man. Name it after one of the Tuskegee Airmen, Percy Sutton, who you knew in New York, who served in the armed forces when it was still segregated."

Trump is told testing is terrible

Officials in states and cities across the country on Sunday called on the federal government to more forcefully confront the coronavirus pandemic, reports Newsday's Scott Eidler. Health and government officials have expressed concern about the escalation of the spread, calling attention to an inability to conduct rapid testing and dwindling numbers of available ICU beds in hospitals.

Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado, a Democrat, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that "the national testing scene is a complete disgrace." He said every test sent out to private lab partners, nationally, are generally processing results in about seven to nine days, calling that turnaround "almost useless from an epidemiological or even diagnostic perspective."

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Democrat, said on CNN's "State of the Union" that his city was "on the brink" of needing to issue a new "stay-at-home" order. "We've seen no national leadership," he said. "We have had to do so much that is outside of our lane because of the lack of national leadership."

With Trump still opposing a national mask mandate, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said on ABC's "This Week" that he recently issued a statewide mask order "to relieve the pressure on our hospitals to give us hope to bring down those cases."

The director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, said New York, New Jersey and Connecticut did a good job in taking effective measures, but "the rest of the country, perhaps imagining this was just a New York problem, kind of went about their business, didn't really pay that much attention to CDC's recommendations about the phases necessary to open up safely, and jumped over some of those hoops."

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest pandemic news from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's Jesse Coburn. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • A partisan battle awaits Congress when it returns to Capitol Hill Monday: whether to pass a Republican-pushed measure to protect employers from coronavirus lawsuits or a Democratic effort to help protect workers from contagion, reports Newsday's Tom Brune.
  • A thorough investigation by The New York Times chronicles the cascading series of mistakes made by Trump and his administration that have allowed the pandemic to rage out of control. Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House coronavirus task force played a role in feeding a false sense of optimism, the Times writes.
  • The Trump administration is trying to block billions of dollars for states to conduct testing and contact tracing in the upcoming coronavirus relief bill, The Washington Post reported. That stand puts the White House in conflict with some Republican senators, as well as Democrats.
  • House Democrats say the White House is blocking Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from testifying at a hearing this week on safely reopening the nation's schools. A committee spokesperson said the panel asked for any CDC official to testify if Redfield wasn't available, but the request was rejected.
  • A 76% majority of Americans in the ABC News/Washington Post poll say Trump, in talking about people he disagrees with, “crosses the line in terms of what’s acceptable.” Only 26% say Biden does the same.
  • Portland, Oregon, Mayor Ted Wheeler called on Trump to remove militarized forces deployed by the Department of Homeland Security, who reportedly didn't identify themselves as they arrested protesters and tossed them into unmarked vans. "As far as I can see, this is completely unconstitutional," Wheeler said on "State of the Union." Trump said in the Fox interview: "If we didn’t take that stand, right now you would have a problem.”
  • Vignettes from a Kanye West rally Sunday in South Carolina. He promised "marijuana will be free" and said he smoked some Saturday night. He said everyone who has a baby should get about a million dollars. He drew groans for saying: “Harriet Tubman never actually freed the slaves, she just had them work for other white people.” He said he's such a genius he “literally went to the hospital because his brain was too big for his skull.” When some applauded, West admonished: “Absolutely no clapping.”

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