One month out, battered Trump campaign faces big challenges

National

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s long-hidden tax returns leaked out. His first debate performance ignited a firestorm over white supremacy. He was hospitalized for COVID-19 after months of playing down the threat of a pandemic that has killed more than 200,000 Americans.

And that was just this past week.

Trump’s reelection team, battered on all sides, now enters the final month of the campaign grappling with deficits in the polls, a shortage of cash and a candidate who is at least temporarily sidelined.

The crises, many of Trump’s own making, have come so quickly that they are hard to keep straight.

Recordings revealed that he acknowledged minimizing the dangers of the coronavirus earlier this year. A blockbuster story raised questions over whether he privately belittled members of the military. And even the first lady was captured on tape expressing disdain for having to decorate the White House for Christmas.

“Are the political gods simply saying, ‘Your run is over’? That four years of chaos has caught up to you?” asked Michael Steele, former head of the Republican Party. He predicts the president’s coronavirus diagnosis will overwhelm all the other massive storylines.

“We are a caring, forgiving people,” Steele said of the American public. “But while they may show him empathy, they also won’t forget that he didn’t do all the things he needed to protect himself and the American people.”

The president’s team is launching what it calls “Operation MAGA” to propel his campaign forward, even as he was being treated Sunday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Although Trump’s medical team raised the possibility that he could be released as early as Monday, significant questions remained about the president’s health and schedule.

The challenges facing the reelection team are enormous.

Both heads of Trump’s political apparatus — campaign manager Bill Stepien and Republican National Committee head Ronna McDaniel — tested positive for COVID-19 this week. Also infected: several outside advisers who had been involved in the president’s debate preparations last week, including former White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

And that comes just days after Brad Parscale, who was demoted from his campaign manager post over the summer but remained in a senior role, was hospitalized. Police were called to his Florida home after his wife said he had a firearm and was acting suicidal.

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