The Note: Trump pins campaign hopes on return to 'normal'

A most unusual president is pinning his hopes on the usual.

May 22, 2020, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

Somehow, it has come to this: A most unusual president has pinned his election hopes on the nation returning to normal.

A through-line of President Donald Trump's scattershot messaging and often baffling public events has been his overriding desire to signal that the COVID-19 crisis is already ending, and the nation is on the mend.

He is not wearing a mask in public -- not even in battleground Michigan Thursday, where the attorney general informed him in advance that it was the law.

He continues to promote and even ingest an unproven treatment, while hyping a variety of other potential medical breakthroughs.

"Transition to Greatness" is a new White House slogan.

Trump suggested in Michigan that Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's reluctance to open things up faster will be "a November question" for voters. "Next year's going to be a big year," the president said.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks during a listening session with African-American leaders at Ford's Rawsonville Components Plant that has been converted to making personal protection and medical equipment, May 21, 2020, in Ypsilanti, Mich.
President Donald Trump speaks during a listening session with African-American leaders at Ford's Rawsonville Components Plant that has been converted to making personal protection and medical equipment, May 21, 2020, in Ypsilanti, Mich.
Alex Brandon/AP

Trump won't be president for most of next year if he doesn't win reelection, of course. Former Vice President Joe Biden is honing messaging that places blame for the coronavirus' spread and the economic damage it brought squarely on Trump.

That's not necessarily breaking through at the moment. But neither is Trump's portrayal of his own performance. New ABC News/Ipsos polling out Friday morning has disapproval of Trump's handling of the crisis at 60% -- his worst numbers since the crisis began.

Just 35% of independents say they approve of the president's handling of the crisis, compared to 39% overall approval.

Such numbers are seeping into broader political awareness, up and down the ballot.

It all feeds the need for Trump to have a success story to sell -- even if voters aren't ready to buy it at the moment.

The RUNDOWN with Kendall Karson

Trump's visit to Michigan on Thursday, coupled with his outburst over the state's effort to expand vote-by-mail for the upcoming primary and general elections, underscored the state's outsized importance in November.

Four years ago, then-candidate Trump won the state by the narrowest of margins -- only about 10,000 votes.

Leading up to the trip, Trump has often tangled with Whitmer, who emerged as a key foil to the president after criticizing the federal government's response to the pandemic as too slow.

Whitmer, a potential vice presidential pick for the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Biden, is contending with one of the state's hardest hit by the coronavirus -- with nearly 55,000 confirmed cases and over 5,100 deaths.

PHOTO: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speeks during a news conference in Lansing, Mich., May 21, 2020.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer speeks during a news conference in Lansing, Mich., May 21, 2020.
Michigan Office of the Governor via AP

As Trump is facing multiple crises, on both the health and economic fronts, his focus on the election is more apparent, as he sought to cast doubt on the state's mail voting practices.

"We don't want to have vote by mail. ... To vote, to really vote, and without fraud, you have to go and you have to vote at the polling place. People have to check you in," Trump said after a listening session with African Americans in Detroit.

But the president's distractions might not be all that distracting, with Democrats first to call him out.

"Today's events were pathetic, partisan campaign stunts from a president who is becoming increasingly desperate as he sees Michigan slipping through his fingers," Michigan Democratic party chair Lavora Barnes said in a statement. "Cheap words and empty promises can't undo the damage he has done to our state."

Biden, too, who spent the day before Trump's visit stumping, albeit virtually, in Wisconsin, to make headway in the neighboring Midwestern battleground, lauded Whitmer's leadership on the COVID-19 crisis and accused Trump of "[turning] his back on Michigan's working families." He also slammed the president's call to pull federal funding from the state over his concerns with voting by mail.

With Democrats recommitting this week to tying their election efforts to health care and making the contest a referendum on the president's handling of the most devastating crisis in over 100 years, Trump might be hard-pressed to find an escape, even as he leaves Washington.

The TIP with John Verhovek

Despite the candidate’s tight-lipped insistence Thursday night on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” that “no one’s been vetted yet,” the typically clandestine process of finding a vice presidential running mate continues to play out in a remarkably public way for Biden's campaign.

"I will tell you something, I am on the short list and I'm honored to be on a short list," Florida Congresswoman Val Demings said during an interview on Sirius XM Radio. Whitmer, musing during a cable news hit, said, "I've had a conversation with some folks."

PHOTO: In this April 15, 2020, file photo, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham puts on her face mask when not speaking during an update on the COVID-19 outbreak in the state during a news conference in the state Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M.
In this April 15, 2020, file photo, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham puts on her face mask when not speaking during an update on the COVID-19 outbreak in the state during a news conference in the state Capitol in Santa Fe, N.M.
Eddie Moore/AP, File

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, the nation's only Latina governor, confirmed to ABC News that the Biden campaign has been in contact with her team to identify supporters in the state who can help "whip up support" for the presumptive nominee.

The candid lobbying from some of the candidates, which mirrors Biden's own penchant to overshare when asked about his running mate search, may stray from tradition, but as the nation remains physically separated amid the COVID-19 crisis, some top allies of the former vice president say it's a necessary part of breaking through.

"We live in a different world today. We live in a soundbite world ... so I'm not surprised at it. Tradition will not necessarily cut it these days," House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, whose last-minute endorsement during the primary many credit with reviving Biden's fledgling campaign, told ABC News this week.

ONE MORE THING

The devastating toll of coronavirus is far-reaching, but the impact of the pandemic is particularly acute among black Americans and Latinos, who are nearly three times as likely to personally know someone who has died from the virus than white Americans, according to a new ABC News/Ipsos poll released Friday. As for the president's handling of the crisis, only 39% of Americans approve of Trump’s leadership -- driven, largely, by waning support among independents -- compared to 60% who disapprove.

BRINGING AMERICA BACK

Once enough people become immune to the novel coronavirus, it can't spread easily throughout the population. But how do we achieve that? Read this story and more by checking out Bringing America Back, an ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in economic recovery and medical preparedness amid the coronavirus pandemic.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. Friday morning's episode features ABC News Chief Business and Economics correspondent Rebecca Jarvis, who explains how COVID-19 is impacting home buying and property taxes. Then, ABC News Senior Meteorologist Rob Marciano checks in from Michigan, where historic flooding has forced people from their homes during the pandemic. And, we conclude our "Pandemic: A Nation Divided" series with Liam Spady, a college student whose struggle with homelessness has only grown during the pandemic. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS WEEKEND

  • President Donald Trump participates in a "Rolling to Remember" ceremony Friday honoring veterans and POW/MIA in the Blue Room at 11:30 a.m. ET
  • On Friday, the 2020 Hawaii Democratic primary will take place
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden will host a virtual brunch Friday with former candidate Andrew Yang at 12:15 p.m. ET and he will also attend a virtual grassroots finance event with former mayor Pete Buttigieg
  • On Sunday, Jill Biden will hold an Eid al-Fitr call with Muslim Americans to celebrate the end of the month of Ramadan 6 p.m. ET
  • ABC News' "Pandemic – A Nation Divided" continues with "Nightline" correspondent Deborah Roberts shining a light on the suburbs of Chicago where a family with mixed immigration status lives in a multi-generational home. One family member works at an Amazon warehouse, another at a meat-packing plant and their story displays the risk of going to work and the complications and limitations of trying to social-distance at home. "Nightline" also speaks with other Amazon center employees who have been calling for safer working conditions, fearful that they could bring the coronavirus home. Tune into "Nightline" midnight ET on ABC.
  • Sunday on ABC's "This Week:" The Powerhouse Roundtable discusses all the week's politics with ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, ABC News Chief Justice Correspondent Pierre Thomas and Associated Press Washington Bureau Chief and ABC News Contributor Julie Pace. Plus, analysis from former New Jersey governor and ABC News Contributor Chris Christie and former Chicago mayor and ABC News Contributor Rahm Emanuel.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

    The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in politics. Please check back Tuesday for the latest.

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