As soon as President Trump was released from the hospital after being treated for the coronavirus, he and his allies began counting down the days until he could return to the campaign trail. By reviving his beloved rallies, they thought, he could both prove to voters that he was healthy enough to be re-elected and zero in on Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s vulnerabilities.
That is not what has happened.
In the week since he restarted in-person campaigning, Mr. Trump has continued to prove he is his own biggest impediment by drawing more attention to himself each day than to Mr. Biden.
The president is blurting out snippets of his inner monologue by musing about how embarrassing it would be to lose to Mr. Biden — and how he’d never return to whatever state he happens to be in if its voters don’t help re-elect him.
He’s highlighting his difficulties with key constituencies, like women and older voters, by wondering out loud why they’ve forsaken him, rather than offering a message to bring more of them back into his camp.
And perhaps most damaging, to him and other Republicans on the ballot, he is further alienating these voters and others by continuing to minimize the pandemic and attacking women in positions of power.
A new low point came on Saturday, when Mr. Trump held a rally in Muskegon, Mich., where he demanded that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reopen the state and then said “lock them all up” after his supporters chanted “lock her up!”
It was a stunningly reckless comment from a president whose own F.B.I. this month arrested 14 men who it said had been plotting to kidnap Ms. Whitmer, a Democrat, and were captured on video with an array of weapons allegedly planning the crime. Mr. Trump has assailed Ms. Whitmer for months, disregarding her solid approval ratings with independent voters and women, two groups he is purportedly trying to court.
Michigan Republicans, already struggling to avoid an electoral debacle in a state that has been returning to its Democratic roots in elections since Mr. Trump’s narrow victory in 2016, were again forced to answer for the president’s penchant for targeting high-profile women there.
“She was literally just targeted,” Lee Chatfield, the speaker of the Michigan House and a leading state Republican, said of Ms. Whitmer. “Let’s debate differences. Let’s win elections. But not that.”
In a sign of how reluctant Republicans are to criticize Mr. Trump, though, Mr. Chatfield lamented the audience’s chant but noted that the president himself hadn’t repeated “lock her up” (ignoring that he did say “lock them all up” in response to the audience).
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Later, Mr. Chatfield and other Republicans seized on an “8645” pin that was visible during an appearance by Ms. Whitmer on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, apparently a reference to “86-ing,” or ejecting, the 45th president, Mr. Trump. Some Republicans claimed that the term “86” had a more violent intent, and Mr. Chatfield tweeted that by displaying the pin, Ms. Whitmer had “encouraged more hate.”
The condemnation of the pin, though, only illustrated how eager Republicans are to find anything, no matter how far a stretch, to obscure attention from Mr. Trump’s language.
A few hours after his appearance in Michigan, Mr. Trump went to Janesville, Wis., and similarly showed no hint of sensitivity to local circumstances. As he did with Ms. Whitmer, he demanded that the state’s Democratic governor, Tony Evers, reopen Wisconsin and proclaimed that the country is “rounding the corner” on the virus — never mind that Wisconsin is experiencing a coronavirus spike and hit a record high in new cases last week.
Not surprisingly, the subsequent coverage of the president’s swing to the two crucial Midwestern states focused on the virus and his attack on Ms. Whitmer, who on “Meet the Press” accused Mr. Trump of “inspiring and incentivizing and inciting” the sort of “domestic terrorism” that threatened her.
Mr. Trump’s inflammatory style also encourages his own supporters, as was on vivid display in Muskegon when crowd members reprised the 2016 mantra about Hillary Clinton for their own governor, ignoring the alleged kidnapping plot against her.
But it’s not just the crowds who seem to be taking their cues from the president.
On Friday, Senator David Perdue of Georgia, a wealthy former business executive who has a home in affluent Sea Island, Ga., took the microphone at a Trump rally in Macon, Ga., and sought to rile up the red-hatted audience. He suggested he did not know how to pronounce the name of Senator Kamala Harris, the Democratic vice-presidential nominee, with whom he has served in the Senate for over three years.
“Kamala? Kamala? Kamala-mala-mala?” he said. “I don’t know. Whatever.”
Democrats pounced, Republicans were put on the defensive and Mr. Perdue’s opponent, Jon Ossoff, raised over $1.8 million as of Sunday evening.
Mr. Trump’s staff has sought to mitigate his self-destructive tendencies. It is clear when he is speaking from a teleprompter at rallies, and as discursive as his speeches are, he’ll deliver many of his attack lines on Mr. Biden as written.
But at nearly every event, the president overwhelms his critique of the former vice president.
With Republicans desperate to reframe the election as a choice on policy differences, Mr. Trump, with his rhetorical outbursts, is effectively ensuring that the campaign remains a referendum on his conduct. That’s what alarms G.O.P. candidates and strategists, who fear that even the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett is no match for Mr. Trump’s daily exercise in self-sabotage.
Returning to South Carolina triumphantly on Friday after he shepherded Ms. Barrett through her Judiciary Committee hearings, Senator Lindsey Graham held a rally-cum-news-conference that amounted to a victory lap. Locked in an unexpectedly close race for re-election against a Democrat, Jaime Harrison, who is raising record-breaking sums of money, Mr. Graham said he thought Mr. Trump would help him in the conservative-leaning state.
But as he stepped into an S.U.V. to leave, he acknowledged the undeniable.
“He can be a handful,” Mr. Graham said of Mr. Trump. “He can get in the way of his own success.”
A number of senior Republican strategists believe the president’s behavior will all but assure his own defeat and is likely to hand Democrats control of the Senate. And every time he criticizes a Republican lawmaker — as he did last week with Senators Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Susan Collins of Maine — they worry it will compound their losses.
But with just over two weeks until the election, a number of party leaders have given up trying to nudge Mr. Trump toward better behavior. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, who is facing an unusually competitive re-election race in part because of Mr. Trump’s divisiveness, said it was not worth trying — and reached for an evocative comparison.
“Like a lot of women who get married and think they’re going to change their spouse, and that doesn’t usually work out very well,” Mr. Cornyn said of Mr. Trump in an interview with The Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
Source : New York Times