President Trump’s son Eric on Sunday angrily dismissed a New York Times investigation showing that more than 200 companies, special-interest groups and foreign governments obtained favors from the Trump administration while patronizing Mr. Trump’s properties, earning the president millions of dollars.
Appearing on the ABC News program “This Week,” Eric Trump deflected when asked to comment on the investigation. He denounced the news media, listed what he said were accomplishments of his father’s administration, insinuated financial impropriety by Joseph R. Biden Jr. and said his father had “lost a fortune” as a result of being president.
But he did not rebut any of The Times’s specific findings or give a clear answer to any of the questions asked by the host, Jon Karl.
“The last thing I can tell you Donald Trump needs in the world is this job,” the younger Mr. Trump said. “He wakes up in the morning, and he has to fight you and he has to fight the entire media and he has to fight the Democrats, and he gets punched in the head every single day. And he wakes up and he fights for this country, and he fights against the lunacy of the radical left.”
In contrast to the president’s contention that he was a Washington outsider who would “drain the swamp” when he took office, The Times investigation revealed that Mr. Trump not only did not disentangle himself from his business empire, but that a pay-to-play culture had permeated his presidency.
Mr. Trump turned his own resorts into the Beltway’s new back rooms, with companies and other special-interest groups spending millions booking conferences and rooms at his hotel in Washington, and on membership fees at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida. They have been able to parlay their access to the president into federal funding, contracts, regulatory changes, judicial nominations and ambassadorships.
When Mr. Karl suggested to Eric Trump that the Times investigation showed “at the very least a huge appearance of a conflict of interest,” Mr. Trump said that tens of millions of people stayed at the family’s properties every year — seemingly playing down the significance of the patronage from special-interest groups and foreign governments. The president placed his two adult sons at the helm of the Trump Organization when he took office in 2017, but The Times reported that he has regularly consulted them on business matters..
The Times’s investigation found that President Trump’s finances had been in steep decline for several years before he entered the White House. The pace of massive profits that flowed his way thanks to “The Apprentice” — a total of $427.4 million from the show, endorsements, and licensing deals — had fallen sharply and consistently after 2011.
Mr. Trump had used much of that fortune to buy and prop-up a collection of money-losing golf courses that required regular infusions of cash. But when the money from entertainment fell, he sold off more than $200 million in stocks and bonds, leaving him with comparatively little, and burned through much of the cash on hand in his businesses.
The investigation also found that regular large losses at Mr. Trump’s core businesses wiped away much of the income tax obligation on his entertainment fortune. After refunds, Mr. Trump paid no federal income taxes in 11 years from 2000 through 2017, and only $750 in two other years. He also faces an active I.R.S. audit of a $72.9 million tax refund that he claimed, and received, after declaring huge losses nearly a decade ago. The investigation also found that he had personally guaranteed more than $300 million in loans coming due within four years.
Jaime Harrison, the Democrat challenging Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, raised an astonishing $57 million in the third quarter of 2020, the highest quarterly fund-raising total for any Senate candidate in United States history.
Mr. Harrison did not so much break the record as shatter it: Before this year, the record was $38 million in a quarter, raised by former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas during his challenge to Senator Ted Cruz in 2018.
Mr. Graham has not yet filed his third-quarter report with the Federal Election Commission, but Mr. Harrison’s quarterly total is more than double what Mr. Graham reported raising in the previous six quarters combined.
From South Carolina to Maine to Alaska, Democratic challengers in races that will determine control of the Senate have been out-raising incumbents for months. But money began to arrive at extraordinary rates after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died last month and Senate Republicans pledged to push through a replacement despite the narrow window before the election and their blockade of President Barack Obama’s nominee in 2016.
Money, of course, does not guarantee victory. Mr. O’Rourke lost his race, and Mr. Graham still has a good chance of winning this one. Two of the three most prominent election forecasters — Inside Elections and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia — say he is slightly favored to win, while the third, the Cook Political Report, calls the race a tossup.
But Mr. Harrison’s enormous fund-raising total, a majority of which came from out-of-state donors, speaks to the intense Democratic energy nationwide that has enabled him to run a competitive race in what would, in a normal year, have been a safe Republican state. President Trump won South Carolina by more than 14 percentage points in 2016, and Mr. Graham won his last race, in 2014, by more than 15 points.
It also speaks to Democratic voters’ specific anger at Mr. Graham, who has become one of Mr. Trump’s most vocal defenders and, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is leading the charge to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court after saying previously that he would not support filling a vacancy in an election year.
As Election Day draws ever closer, President Trump is leaning into the kind of campaigning he feels most comfortable with. He is set to return to holding rallies on Monday, just over a week after he announced he had contracted the coronavirus and with stimulus negotiations in perilous standing.
His looming return to the campaign trail comes as Joseph R. Biden Jr. has been taking an economic populist message to blue-collar counties across the country, framing the election as “Scranton versus Park Avenue.”
In a social media post on Sunday that was hidden by Twitter, Mr. Trump claimed that he was “immune” from the virus and that the resumption of his political rallies would not pose a danger to himself or others.
Twitter put a warning on the post, saying that it violated its rules about spreading misleading and potentially harmful information about the virus.
“A total and complete sign off from White House Doctors yesterday,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “That means I can’t get it (immune), and can’t give it. Very nice to know!!!”
The president, still recovering from the virus, held an event on Saturday at the White House where he delivered a brief speech to a few hundred supporters gathered on the White House lawn who called the event a “peaceful protest” in honor of “law and order.” It was not a campaign event, but it often resembled one.
On Monday, Mr. Trump is scheduled to return to the campaign trail in Florida. He will be leaving behind fragile and critical negotiations for the next round of economic stimulus bills. Those negotiations are fracturing his own party in the Senate and are no closer to completion than they were days ago when Mr. Trump abruptly canceled the talks.
Mr. Biden, who does not have publicly scheduled travel on Sunday, hammered home an economic message in Erie County, Pa., on Saturday, quickly ticking through his “Build Back Better” plan with a direct promise to create more union jobs. He will travel to Ohio on Monday where he will again address his economic plan.
Democrats sharpened their case against Judge Amy Coney Barrett on Sunday, warning on the eve of contentious Supreme Court confirmation hearings that her presence on the court would threaten the Affordable Care Act and abortion rights, which are popular with a majority of Americans.
“She is being sent on assignment to the Supreme Court by President Trump,” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “And we know what that assignment is: eliminate the Affordable Care Act, which protects 23 million Americans, and be there if the president needs her in an election contest.”
Locked in the minority with few procedural delay tools, Democrats have all but conceded they cannot stop Republicans’ drive to confirm Judge Barrett by Election Day, cementing a 6-to-3 conservative majority on the nation’s highest court. But they are aiming to use four days of nationally televised confirmation hearings to exact a steep political price by galvanizing liberals, independents and especially women to expel Republicans from the Senate majority and the White House next month.
Republicans sense the political peril and aim to use the hearings to calm unease among moderates about their hasty timeline and to reset the terms of a campaign drifting away from them.
They will reintroduce Judge Barrett, an appeals court judge and Notre Dame law professor, as a dazzling legal scholar and Catholic mother of seven, largely downplaying the promise of politically divisive conservative court victories in favor of a remarkable personal biography.
They will also try to bait Democrats into coming after Judge Barrett’s faith, in hopes they can stir up a backlash reminiscent of the 2018 confirmation of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, which electrified the Republican base just before the midterm elections.
“I hope we don’t see Senate Democrats turning it into a political circus like they did with Justice Kavanaugh,” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, said on “Meet the Press.” “I hope we don’t see the kind of personal smears, smears directed at her family, directed at her faith.”
The hearings, which will run until Thursday, are proceeding despite a coronavirus outbreak tied to a White House ceremony last month announcing Judge Barrett’s nomination. It sickened at least two Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, prompting Democrats to demand a delay. But Republicans do not have time to spare, and will allow lawmakers uncomfortable participating in person to join the hearings by video.
President Trump said in an interview on Fox News on Sunday that he was taking “pretty routine” medicine to treat his coronavirus infection, though some of his treatments were aggressive and experimental, and added that he is now “totally free of spreading” the virus.
The president made the comments in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on “Sunday Morning Futures,” adding that he is prepared to resume campaign travel on Monday.
“The medications that I took were standard, pretty routine,” Mr. Trump said. In fact, he received a cutting-edge combination treatment: remdesivir, an antiviral medication; dexamethasone, a steroid only recently shown to reduce death rates in severe cases; and an experimental cocktail of monoclonal antibodies, designed to turn back the virus shortly after infection.
Mr. Trump pointed out that he was on a balcony for an event on Saturday at the White House attended by a few hundred people who gathered on the South Lawn, and therefore posed little threat of infecting others.
“I think on the whole, it is probably a safe assumption he is no longer contagious,” Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said on “Face the Nation” on Sunday, citing some of the data released about the president’s test results.
“I think the question now is, has his health been restored?” Dr. Gottlieb said. “And we know that a lot of patients have lingering effects from Covid.”
Mr. Trump insisted he’s immune to the virus now. “It does give you immunity,” the president said, although he acknowledged it’s unclear for how long.
Scientists do not yet fully understand how long immunity to the coronavirus may last following an infection, nor how strong it may be.
Mr. Trump tried to raise questions about whether his opponent in the upcoming presidential election, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., could be sick, claiming he had been coughing “horribly” yesterday.
The Biden campaign has released results of the candidate’s coronavirus testing, which so far have been negative. The White House has declined to do the same for the president, even in a doctor’s memo on Saturday declaring him no longer at risk of transmitting the virus.
In Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s opening statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, as she begins hearings for her nomination to the Supreme Court, she plans to speak of having “humility about the responsibility I have been asked to undertake,” according to a copy of the statement released in advance of the first hearing tomorrow.
Ms. Barrett writes that she has “appreciation for those who came before me” and invokes both former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose seat Ms. Barrett has been nominated to fill.
“I have been nominated to fill Justice Ginsburg’s seat, but no one will ever take her place,” Ms. Barrett says in the statement. “I will be forever grateful for the path she marked and the life she led.” The judge, who currently serves in Indiana, plans to speak extensively about her biography and her family. She will also talk about the late Justice Antonin Scalia, with whom she clerked and to whom her supporters have compared her.
“Justice Scalia taught me more than just law,” she writes in the statement. “He was devoted to his family, resolute in his beliefs, and fearless of criticism. And as I embarked on my own legal career, I resolved to maintain that same perspective.”
“There is a tendency in our profession to treat the practice of law as all-consuming, while losing sight of everything else. But that makes for a shallow and unfulfilling life,” she says in the statement. “I worked hard as a lawyer and a professor; I owed that to my clients, my students, and myself. But I never let the law define my identity or crowd out the rest of my life.”
She also plans to say that courts “are not designed to solve every problem or right every wrong in our public life. The policy decisions and value judgments of government must be made by the political branches elected by and accountable to the People. The public should not expect courts to do so, and courts should not try.”
She will say that she tries to look at every judicial opinion she writes through “the perspective of the losing party. I ask myself how would I view the decision if one of my children was the party I was ruling against: Even though I would not like the result, would I understand that the decision was fairly reasoned and grounded in the law? That is the standard I set for myself in every case, and it is the standard I will follow as long as I am a judge on any court.”
The Trump campaign featured Dr. Anthony S. Fauci in an advertisement this week without his consent and out of context, the infectious disease expert said on Sunday.
“I was totally surprised,” he said in an interview. “The use of my name and my words by the G.O.P. campaign was done without my permission, and the actual words themselves were taken out of context, based on something that I said months ago regarding the entire effort of the task force.”
CNN first reported Dr. Fauci’s displeasure with the campaign ad. The spot seeks to use Mr. Trump’s release from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he was treated for Covid-19, to improve the negative image many people have of his handling of the coronavirus. He has repeatedly flouted the advice of the nation’s top medical experts to wear a mask, and played down the severity of the disease, even as the number of deaths and serious illnesses continues to rise.
Dr. Fauci is widely viewed as one of the most credible individuals in government and is beloved by much of the public.
He took issue with the campaign ad’s inclusion of an excerpt from a March interview, in which he said the words “I can’t believe that anybody could be doing more.”
But in that interview, as he noted today, Dr. Fauci was discussing the White House coronavirus task force, not Mr. Trump personally. The two have often been at odds during the pandemic.
During the vice-presidential debate last week, several issues came up, including the Supreme Court, climate change and taxes, that underscored the tightrope Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Kamala Harris are trying to walk as they seek to balance appeals to progressives and moderates alike.
President Trump and Republicans have used these issues in particular to try to paint Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris as prisoners of the party’s left wing, even while Mr. Biden, who has a substantial lead in the polls, has run as an unapologetic centrist.
Still, some of the issues are among those Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris themselves disagreed on during the Democratic primary race. On Thursday, those differences proved to be a particularly thorny challenge for Ms. Harris as she tried to defend Mr. Biden on the debate stage against Republican attacks.
Complicating matters for Mr. Biden is the pressure he continues to face from the left, which viewed him as an imperfect steward for the party. In fact, Mr. Biden has been reluctant to support transformative policies favored by the left, like expanding the size of the Supreme Court or supporting the Green New Deal.
In recent weeks, he has refused to give an answer about his views on increasing the size of the Supreme Court, telling reporters on Thursday, “They’ll know my opinion on court-packing when the election is over,” a remark that incensed Republicans and left Mr. Biden looking evasive.
On Saturday, he again dodged the question when asked about whether voters deserved to know his position before Election Day, saying, “The only packing going on is, this court is being packed now by the Republicans after the vote has already begun.”
Certainly, there is no comparison between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump when it comes to consistency on policy or transparency, now or over the years. Just last week, Mr. Trump halted stimulus talks abruptly, and the White House is now seeking to revive them. And he and his team have been evasive or nonresponsive on a host of issues, from details of his health status to his own health care policy.
As President Trump continued to trail by double digits in polls, several of his surrogates tried on Sunday to shift attention away from the details of his coronavirus infection and his administration’s handling of the pandemic.
In interviews on the morning talk shows, the president’s son Eric Trump; his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump; and the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Ronna McDaniel, repeatedly deflected or responded dishonestly when asked about the president’s flouting of public health guidelines and other matters.
Ms. McDaniel said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that voters were “frustrated by the corrupt debate commission, that they would cancel a second debate.” The commission didn’t cancel the debate; it announced that it would be virtual to avoid the possibility of coronavirus transmission, and Mr. Trump withdrew.
Ms. Trump, asked on “Fox News Sunday” why she and others in the president’s family had disregarded the mask requirement at the first debate, said no officials had told them to put masks on, even though there is video of an official doing so.
And Eric Trump said on ABC’s “This Week” that his father had received a coronavirus vaccine, which he didn’t; he received treatments for the virus. He also said falsely that Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Kamala Harris wanted to defund the police.
He and Lara Trump both insisted that the administration had done its due diligence by testing attendees at White House events, including the Rose Garden nomination ceremony for Judge Amy Coney Barrett — even though the tests it relied on weren’t meant to be used that way, and even though health experts’ conclusion that Judge Barrett’s nomination was a superspreader event showed the ineffectiveness of that strategy.
When pressed on these and other points, Mr. Trump and Ms. McDaniel berated their interviewers for what they said was insufficient focus on the violence at racial justice protests and on Mr. Biden’s refusal to say whether he would support adding justices to the Supreme Court.
“This is all the media should be focusing on,” Ms. McDaniel said of the court-packing issue, deflecting from a question about whether the president would resume in-person fund-raisers after his illness and, if so, whether his campaign would require masks.
Mr. Biden’s deputy campaign manager, Kate Bedingfield, was in fact questioned sharply on court-packing on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“This is a hypothetical that they want to throw out right now to distract from the fact that they are trying to ram through a nominee — who, as I said, is going to change the makeup of the court — against the will of the American people,” she said, adding that Mr. Biden’s focus was on preventing Republicans from confirming Judge Barrett, though there is little Democrats can do to prevent that.
When pressed further, Ms. Bedingfield said: “He’s probably answered this question 15 times over the course of the last week. The answer is, I am not going to play Donald Trump’s game. I am not going to allow the terms of this debate to shift to a hypothetical that assumes, by the way, that the Democrats are going to lose here. That’s what’s at the core of this argument they’re making. It assumes that we’re going to lose. Vice President Biden doesn’t accept that.”
Joseph R. Biden Jr. will continue promoting his economic message to “Build Back Better” in a trip to Ohio on Monday, where he will deliver remarks in Toledo before a visit to Cincinnati. It was a message he pushed over the weekend, swinging through a county in Pennsylvania that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and Barack Obama in 2012, and making a direct pitch to union and blue-collar workers on Saturday afternoon, in a speech laden with economic populist tones.
“There’s going to be such a race for job creation for unions, you’re not going to believe it,” Mr. Biden said, in a speech that was slightly truncated to escape the looming rain storms. “The only power we have is union power. You’re the guys who keep the barbarians on the other side of the gate from taking everything.”
But as Mr. Biden, the former vice president, and his campaign try to home in on an economic message in this closing stretch, he has refused to answer questions about his position on potentially expanding the Supreme Court if Republicans confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett, saying he won’t reveal his position until after the election. Mr. Trump, struggling in many polls, and other Republicans have sought to use the issue as a cudgel.
“The only packing going on is this court is being packed now by the Republicans after the vote has already begun,” Mr. Biden said in a brief Q. and A. session with reporters on the tarmac. “I’m going to stay focused on it so we don’t take our eyes off the ball here.”
On Thursday, Mr. Biden told reporters that Americans would know his opinion on expanding the Supreme Court “when the election is over,” and on Friday, he cut off a reporter who had begun to ask whether voters deserved to know his position on the issue, saying he was not going to play the Republican “game.” Last year, he made plain that he opposed expanding the courts but he has in recent weeks sought to cast the question as a Republican distraction.
Before his speech on Saturday, Mr. Biden toured a training center at a local plumbers union, again striking a message directed to blue-collar, working-class voters.
And, offering clear evidence about the importance of winning Pennsylvania, Mr. Biden was emphatic that he would not ban fracking.
“No matter how many lies he tells, I am not, not, not banning fracking,” Mr. Biden said, referring to Mr. Trump.
Before boarding his plane to leave Erie, Mr. Biden sought to clean up a quote he made during his speech — “The only way we lose this is by the chicanery going on relative to polling places” — that was being interpreted as a similar comment to the ones Mr. Trump has been making, falsely depicting a rigged election process.
“What I was referencing is the attempts that are made to try to influence and scare people from voting,” Mr. Biden said, saying his initial remarks were being taken out of context. “We should not pay attention to them. The American people are voting. They’re voting in large numbers. They’re going to determine the outcome, and I’m going to accept the outcome of the election without any question.”
The comments come as Mr. Biden has been leaning into a more populist message, pitching his campaign as Scranton versus Park Avenue, a reference to his hometown in Pennsylvania and the wealthy allies of Mr. Trump’s. He spent the top portion of his remarks at the union center recounting his blue-collar roots and how his father lost his job in Pennsylvania, which led to the family’s relocation to Delaware.
Once a deeply Democratic county, Erie was one of only three counties that Mr. Obama won in both 2008 and 2012 but Mr. Trump carried in 2016. As Pennsylvania is increasingly considered as one of the “tipping point” states that could swing the election, winning back voters in counties like Erie has increasingly been a focus of the Biden campaign. Saturday’s trip marked Mr. Biden’s 11th visit to Pennsylvania, according to his campaign.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sunday shows Joseph R. Biden Jr. leading President Trump by 12 percentage points, similar both to his margin in a Post/ABC poll last month and to his margins in polls released by several other organizations in the past week.
Fifty-four percent of likely voters in the new poll said they planned to vote for Mr. Biden, and 42 percent said they planned to vote for Mr. Trump. The margin of error was plus or minus four percentage points.
There is no significant difference between these results and the 10-point lead Mr. Biden had in a Washington Post/ABC News poll released Sept. 27, before the first presidential debate and Mr. Trump’s coronavirus diagnosis. None of the earth-shaking events of the past few months have changed the picture very much, and so far, there is no indication that the events of the past couple weeks will be any different.
As has been the case all year, voters trust Mr. Trump more than Mr. Biden to handle the economy, but they trust Mr. Biden more to handle essentially every other major issue, including the pandemic — and the economy isn’t enough to outweigh everything else. In the poll released Sunday, 12 percent of likely voters approved of the president’s handling of the economy but disapproved of his handling of the pandemic, and among those voters, Mr. Biden had a nearly 40-point lead.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, who was targeted last week in a planned kidnapping operation by an armed group, whose alleged members have been arrested, said on Sunday that she remains worried about the presence of right-wing militias in her state.
“I do believe that there are still serious threats that groups like this group, these domestic terrorists, are finding comfort and support in the rhetoric coming out of Republican leadership in the White House to our state house,” she said in an appearance on “Face the Nation.”
The F.B.I. and state authorities have arrested 13 men allegedly involved in the plot, which targeted Ms. Whitmer as well as other elected officials and members of law enforcement. Ms. Whitmer, a Democrat, has drawn fierce criticism from anti-government and conservative groups for strict lockdown measures she took to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In her appearance on “Face the Nation,” Ms. Whitmer implored Michiganders to vote early, and said officials are prepared to ensure the election goes smoothly and every vote is counted in the battleground state.
“We’re going to keep people safe as they go to the polls, and we will not tolerate anyone who is trying to interfere with someone’s ability to safely vote,” she said when asked whether she was concerned about Trump supporters taking it upon themselves to monitor polling stations for voter fraud.
The definitive results of the election will not be available on Nov. 3, she added, given the increase in mail-in ballots and the state’s extended deadline that will allow ballots received two weeks after Election Day to be counted, a move that has also been criticized by Republican legislators.
“We’re going to have historic turnout, and we’re going to do it right,” she said.
Perhaps no one was more surprised to learn that Joyce Jones wanted to defund the police than Joyce Jones herself.
On Aug. 11, Ms. Jones was in the final stretch of her campaign for mayor of Montevallo, a town of 6,674 people in central Alabama, when she appeared in a candidate forum alongside her opponent, Rusty Nix. The moderator asked both candidates how they would work with the town’s police department. Ms. Jones said she was grateful for the work of Montevallo’s law enforcement, and that as mayor she would consider adding social programs to help the town not just respond to crime (of which there is little in Montevallo) but prevent it, too.
She awoke the next morning to find her phone clogged with social-media notifications. “‘Defund the police,’” she remembered. “It was like a wildfire.” Citizens on one of the local Facebook groups accused Ms. Jones, who was running to be the town’s first Black mayor, of using the “same language” in her answer as the Black Lives Matter movement, implying that she had a hidden agenda.
Montevallo’s elections are nonpartisan, and there was a time when they felt that way. Candidates would run on proposals like updating the sewage systems, beautifying Main Street and starting a townwide recycling program.
But as Ms. Jones, a 44-year-old lifelong Montevalloan, was finding, not even her tiny town was immune from the divisions roiling the Trump era, the political tremors that once would have felt out of place in casual conversations at Lucky’s supermarket, not to mention local elections, but that now seemed to color everything.
Ms. Jones tried to quash the rumors, but the falsehood continued to ricochet across social media. One man shared a photo of activists in Austin, Texas, holding a giant black-and-white “Defund the police” banner, captioning it, “Montevallo’s future if liberals keep getting elected.”
For Ms. Jones, it was but one partisan-inflected battle in a campaign season of many, an election that would go on to mirror national fights over poll watchers and targeting of Black voters; include sobbing staffers, charges of racism and warnings of Marxism; and culminate in an unsettling feeling among many that, by the time the final vote was counted on the evening of Aug. 25, something in the town had been lost.
“It has always been in my heart this center of civility,” said Montevallo’s outgoing mayor, Hollie Cost. “Before the age of Trump, before all” — she paused — “this, whatever this even is, we all got along. It just ripped us apart.”
When President Trump picked someone to conduct his first on-camera interview since testing positive for the coronavirus, he made the safest of choices: Dr. Marc Siegel, a physician and Fox News personality who has criticized Democratic governors for closing down schools and businesses to fight the pandemic.
At the most politically and physically vulnerable point of his presidency, Mr. Trump has retreated to his safe space: conservative media programs, where he can rely on warm, ego-boosting chats with supporters like Maria Bartiromo, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin.
In these cozy surroundings — his primary way of communicating with the public as he shuns interviews with most other journalists — Mr. Trump has only himself to fear: There is virtually no risk that he will encounter a persistent questioner pressing an uncomfortable topic, or that he will appear as defensive or unruly as he did during the first presidential debate.
But his decision to remain within a right-wing echo chamber has threatened to shut off Mr. Trump from a much larger — and electorally important — audience of potential voters and political independents whose votes he will need if he is to win the election in just over three weeks.
The president’s refusal to participate in the now-canceled second presidential debate because organizers shifted it to an all-virtual event amounted to walking away from a TV viewership of close to 70 million viewers, baffling political media experts. And while Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Hannity command the biggest audiences in their respective fields, their programs have nowhere near the reach of a debate that airs on a dozen broadcast and cable networks simultaneously.
“Trump should want 10 more debates right now,” Alex Conant, a Republican consultant who has overseen communications strategy on Senate and presidential campaigns, said in an interview.
With Mr. Trump trailing in almost every poll of battleground states, Mr. Conant said, the president’s demands that the debate be held on his terms “was very much an emotional response, instead of a strategic one.”