President Donald Trump talks to members of the media Monday...

President Donald Trump talks to members of the media Monday at a Phoenix airport. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

Down but not out

"We're going to win," President Donald Trump told campaign staffers on a conference call Monday, with a sizable number of reporters listening in. "I wouldn't have told you that maybe two or three weeks ago."

Democrats haunted by the memories of Hillary Clinton's upset defeat in 2016 aren't laughing off Trump's boast, even with Joe Biden still riding a 9-point national lead in the current RealClearPolitics polling average and a narrower edge in enough swing states to take the Electoral College.

"I don’t know anyone in my Democratic pollster world who is sitting 100% comfortably or anything like that," Nick Gourevitch, a partner at Global Strategy Group, told The Washington Post. "Biden seems in better shape, but it is still a polarized country and a Trump win is still within the realm of possibility."

Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon has been telling donors, activists and voters to assume that the current polling leads will not last. "We also know that even the best polling can be wrong, and that variables like turnout mean that in a number of critical states we are functionally tied," she wrote in a weekend memo.

Politico writes that Democrats are scrambling to account for the hidden variables that could still sink Biden — the known unknowns. GOP registration ticked up in key states when Democratic field operations were in pandemic-induced hibernation.

Democratic turnout is surging in early voting, but no one knows yet whether it will be enough to overcome an expected late rush of in-person Election Day balloting by Republicans who are distrustful of mail voting. There's uncertainty about the polling accuracy in certain swing states, the impact of reported GOP voter-suppression efforts and how many mail-in ballots that for various reasons could be disqualified.

One reason strategists are focusing so heavily on the mechanics of the election — including turnout and vote counting — is that little else is likely to alter the course of the campaign, Politico said. Republicans have all but given up hope for a dramatic turnaround on the coronavirus or a burst of good economic news. If the election is still a referendum on Trump, the president is in big trouble.

Flailing at Fauci

Apparently set off by Dr. Anthony Fauci's Sunday appearance on CBS' "60 Minutes," Trump digressed from the campaign pep talk Monday to denounce the government's top infectious-disease official as a "disaster" and part of a group of scientists he regarded as "all these idiots."

Targeting the popular and trusted Fauci seems like a politically high-risk gamble, but Trump was speaking from Las Vegas, home of the crapshoot. Trump also was annoyed that the coronavirus pandemic — which has killed more than 220,000 Americans and is claiming about 700 more lives a day as cases rise again — remains a prime topic of the election conversation.

Americans are "over COVID," Trump said. "People are tired of COVID. Yep, there's gonna be spikes, there's gonna be no spikes, there's gonna be vaccines — with or without vaccines, people are tired of COVID."

Fauci, in the CBS interview, dismissed the president’s claim that the end of the pandemic is just around the corner and said he wasn't surprised that Trump caught the disease after disregarding precautions. Trump said, "Every time he goes on television, there’s always a bomb, but there’s a bigger bomb if you fire him."

He continued his tirade against Fauci on Twitter and on his way to rallies in Arizona. He also said the doctor is a "nice guy" that he likes. "I don’t want to hurt him. He’s been there for about 350 years," Trump said.

Trump's campaign included an out-of-context Fauci in an ad touting the president just last week despite Fauci's protests. On Monday, Trump decided to argue at a rally that Biden would make terrible mistakes because "He wants to listen to Dr. Fauci. He wants to listen to Dr. Fauci." In response, Biden tweeted simply, " … yes."

The Democrat also said in a statement rebutting Trump that Americans are "tired of your lies about this virus." Said Biden: "We need a leader to bring us together, put a plan in place, and beat this virus — but you have proven yourself yet again to be incapable of doing that."

This day in polls

Biden is ahead of Trump by 11 points in a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, his biggest margin to date in that nationwide survey.

Reuters/Ipsos polling found Biden ahead by 4 points in Pennsylvania, a tighter margin than the 7 points a week ago. In Wisconsin, Biden held an 8-point advantage, up a point from the previous week. Both states went to Trump in 2016.

Janison: The albatross and the elephants

The future of state and local Republican Party organizations in blue states including New York could become rosier if Biden were to unseat Trump than if the president holds on for another four years, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

New York State Democrats risk losing an indispensable enemy. The Democratic Party will lose the sense of unity that comes with a Trump-inspired political emergency.

Trump's reputation after a while would no longer burden local Republicans. They could change the subject to serious messaging on fiscal caution, police, taxes, suburbs and regulation. An undisciplined showman would no longer be hogging the bandwidth and setting an acrid tone.

With Trump gone, the GOP could better convince independents outside its usual conclaves that it serves as a useful check on the Democratic monopoly in the state — and perhaps one day even gain ground in communities of color.

Coronavirus task farce?

The U.S. pandemic response increasingly has been plagued by distrust, infighting and lethargy amid worsening infighting on the White House coronavirus task force, The Washington Post reported.

Dr. Scott Atlas, recruited after his Fox News appearances attacking the curb-the-spread policies won Trump's attention, has consolidated power over the disease experts who previously held sway, including Dr. Deborah Birx and Fauci.

Birx recently confronted the office of Vice President Mike Pence, saying she wants Atlas removed from the task force because she does not trust him and does not believe he is giving Trump sound advice, sources told the Post. Pence has told them to work out their differences.

Trump also has plotted with his political advisers on a preelection promotional campaign funded by taxpayers to try to convince voters a vaccine is safe, approved and ready for mass distribution — even if none of that is true yet, the Post reported.

Debate plan: Soundless fury

The presidential debate commission on Monday announced a plan to deter Thursday's final faceoff between Biden and Trump from turning into as chaotic a spectacle as their first one: When it's not a candidate's turn to speak, his mic will be muted.

The first debate on Sept. 29 featured constant interruptions — 71 by Trump and 22 from Biden. Trump's campaign complained that the "biased commission" was trying to help "their favored candidate" but said the president will still participate.

Earlier Monday, the Trump’s campaign protested the topics for the debate. With foreign policy not on the list, campaign manager Bill Stepien accused the bipartisan debate commission of trying "to insulate Biden from his own history" — alluding to allegations Trump and his allies are promoting about the Biden family benefiting from his actions in office.

Biden's campaign retorted that the campaigns and the commission "agreed months ago" that the debate moderator, Kristen Welker of NBC News, would choose the topics. "Donald Trump is afraid to face more questions about his disastrous COVID response," Biden campaign spokesman TJ Ducklo said.

The commission announced Friday that Welker plans to focus on climate change, the coronavirus pandemic, race and national security, as well as ideas about leadership and families. Trump went after Welker on Saturday, tweeting that she's "terrible & unfair."

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments from Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Bart Jones. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • In a setback for Trump and Republicans, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Friday to let Pennsylvania count ballots received by mail up to three days after Election Day, even if they don't have a clear postmark. The justices divided 4-4, with Chief Justice John Roberts siding with the court's liberals, an outcome that lets a state Supreme Court ruling stand.
  • Trump's venting at Fauci included a pushback at the doctor for saying the White House often blocks him from doing TV interviews. "He seems to get more airtime than anybody since the late, great, Bob Hope," Trump tweeted. Hope died in 2003 at age 100. His prodigious comic legacy includes this 1990 spoof of a lecherous Trump when his first marriage was on the rocks.
  • Polls indicate Biden has been winning the battle for suburban women's votes, and Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez explored why. Lawrence Levy, executive dean at Hofstra University’s National Center for Suburban Studies, said Trump's handling of the pandemic is a prime issue for suburbanites who are "turned off by both the tone of his rhetoric and the lack of consistency and respect for expertise, such as science, in his policies."
  • When Reuters reporter Jeff Mason questioned Trump on Monday about labeling Biden and his son Hunter as criminals, Trump responded, "You’re a criminal for not reporting it." Trump said the former vice president would have been "locked up five weeks ago" if Attorney General William Barr weren’t such "a very nice man."
  • Trump on Monday said Sudan will be removed from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism if it follows through on its pledge to pay $335 million to American terror victims and their families. The Trump administration is pushing Sudan to join Arab states that have recently recognized Israel.
  • About 68% of adults say that the presidential election is a significant source of stress in their lives, according to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, The New York Times writes. Four years ago, 52% reported such stress.
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