Walloped by pandemic and controversy, Trump faces political turmoil

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2020 (AFP) - Donald Trump fired his campaign manager late Wednesday, just four months ahead of November’s election, in a bid to transform a campaign that has seen his popularity sinking over his management of the surging coronavirus.

With two more polls Wednesday adding to several recently that have shown the US president’s support tanking, he took to Twitter to announce that Brad Parscale would be replaced by Bill Stepien, his former deputy campaign manager.

Praising both for their efforts, he struck a hopeful note as he looked ahead to November, saying the election “should be a lot easier” than 2016 “as our poll numbers are rising fast, the economy is getting better, vaccines and therapeutics will soon... be on the way, and Americans want safe streets and communities!”

But the reality is stubborn and sobering: more than 137,000 Americans have been killed by COVID-19, confirmed new cases are on the rise in 40 out of 50 states, California announced it was re-shuttering parts of its massive economy, and Trump is clashing with health experts tasked with fighting the crisis.

With infection rates that have taken radically different trajectories than those in Europe, the United States is in bad shape — and the president appears to be dodging the subject.

On Wednesday he traveled to Atlanta — not to visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for an update on the pandemic response as cases spike in the south and west, but to deliver a speech on modernizing America’s infrastructure.

One day earlier he held a long press conference at the White House in which he touched on multiple subjects and vilified his Democratic rival Joe Biden — but barely mentioned the outbreak.

His attempt to discredit respected infectious disease specialist Anthony Fauci, who has bluntly warned that the US strategy against the virus is faltering, has flopped.

Even some voices within his own camp are urging the president to tackle the problem more seriously rather than blame scapegoats.

“We don’t have a Dr Fauci problem,” stressed Republican Senator Lindsey Graham. “I think any effort to undermine him is not going to be productive.”

Obama weighs in

The White House has sought to calm the waters, with Trump castigating trade adviser Peter Navarro for an opinion piece in USA Today this week attacking Fauci.

But Trump and the White House have repeatedly criticized Fauci in recent weeks.

Fauci described the efforts as “bizarre,” telling The Atlantic magazine that “ultimately, it hurts the president to do that.”

Amid the hubbub, Barack Obama weighed in with an appeal for apolitical action.

“The latest data offers a tragic reminder that the virus doesn’t care about spin or ideology,” the 44th president tweeted Wednesday without naming the 45th, but clearly referring to Trump.

“The best thing we can do for our economy is to deal with our public health crisis,” Obama added.

Biden, for eight years Obama’s deputy, appears content to run a minimal campaign with few public appearances, but he nevertheless has sought to seize the momentum from a flailing Trump.