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Sherman writes: "Even as the death toll neared 100,000 and unemployment ranks swelled to over 38 million, Trump couldn't see the pandemic as anything other than something that had happened to him."

Donald Trump. (photo: Win McNamee/Getty)
Donald Trump. (photo: Win McNamee/Getty)

"This Is So Unfair to Me": Trump Whines About His COVID-19 Victimhood as Campaign Flails

By Gabriel Sherman, Vanity Fair

28 May 20


s he headed into Memorial Day weekend, Donald Trump complained that he was COVID-19’s biggest victim. “He was just in a fucking rage,” said a person who spoke with Trump late last week. “He was saying, ‘This is so unfair to me! Everything was going great. We were cruising to reelection!” Even as the death toll neared 100,000 and unemployment ranks swelled to over 38 million, Trump couldn’t see the pandemic as anything other than something that had happened to him. “The problem is he has no empathy,” the adviser said. Trump complained that he should have been warned about the virus sooner. “The intelligence community let me down!” he said.

The White House declined to comment.

Trump’s outburst reflected his growing frustration that, at this stage of the race, he is losing to Joe Biden. According to a Republican briefed on the campaign’s internal polls, Trump is trailing Biden by double digits among women over 50 in six swing states. “Trump knows the numbers are bad. It’s why he’s thrashing about,” the Republican said.

Even those closest to Trump have been privately worried the election is slipping away. According to a source, Melania Trump warned the president during their trip to India in February to take the virus response seriously. “He totally blew her off,” the source said. Melania later told people that Trump “only hears what he wants to hear and surrounds himself with yes-people and family,” the source added.

The first lady’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

But with formerly solid-red Georgia in play, Trump has conceded to reality and is shaking up his campaign. This morning the campaign promoted former White House political director Bill Stepien to deputy campaign manager and named Stephanie Alexander, the Midwest political director, to the post of campaign chief of staff. The moves are being seen by many in Trumpworld as a demotion for Trump’s campaign manager, Brad Parscale, who has been at odds with Trump for weeks over his spending and the president’s deteriorating poll numbers. “Trump has been screaming at Brad, ‘How many fucking times do I have to tell you I don’t like this! Are you fucking stupid?’” said a Republican who’s overheard the conversations. (“Your source is wrong,” a campaign spokesperson said in an email. “The President never said that about Brad.”) “Once you get on the wrong side of the mountain with Trump, it’s hard to get back,” said a Trump friend.

About Stepien’s promotion, the campaign spokesperson said, “This is a solidification of Brad’s leadership.”

Stepien, a close ally of Jared Kushner, is viewed by Trump advisers as a competent tactician who can help the campaign appeal to alienated suburban voters. “This is a sign the campaign realized they needed to bring in the big boys,” said a former West Wing official.

The problem for Stepien, though, is that no amount of messaging or get-out-the-vote efforts can shade the reality that Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic has plunged the country into a once-in-a-century economic crisis. It’s a point Stepien tacitly made when I interviewed him before the 2018 midterms. “Bottom line is Americans want security. They want to feel safe in the realm of national security, and they want to feel economically secure,” Stepien said at the time.

But the biggest obstacle standing in the way of a Trump-campaign reset is the candidate. “Trump is doing it to himself by tweeting idiotic conspiracy theories about Joe Scarborough. Women are tired of this shit,” said another former West Wing official. An outside adviser agreed. “Trump can’t pivot to a different strategy,” the adviser told me. “He only knows one strategy—which is attack. It worked in 2016. But now it’s not what people are looking for.” The adviser told me that Trump’s New York friends are planning an intervention to get him to stop tweeting about the Morning Joe cohost.

And when he’s not feeling helpless or aggrieved, Trump continues to cling to magical thinking. “He lives in his own fucking world,” the outside adviser said. Trump recently told a friend that the Moderna vaccine is going to be ready in months.

At this point many Republicans I spoke to said the only hope for Trump is that Biden implodes. As one prominent Republican put it: “Right now the only person who can change the dynamic is Joe Biden.” your social media marketing partner
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