By JILL COLVIN, WILL WEISSERT and ZEKE MILLER Associated Press
LAS VEGAS (AP) — President Donald Trump on Monday sought to buck up his campaign staffers two weeks from Election Day, dismissing the cautionary coronavirus advice of scientific experts as well as polling showing him trailing Democratic rival Joe Biden across key battleground states.
Speaking to campaign aides on a conference call, Trump insisted he believes he’s going to win, volunteering he didn’t have that sense of confidence two weeks ago when he was hospitalized with COVID-19. One week since returning to the campaign trail, where his handling of the pandemic is a central issue to voters, Trump blasted his government’s own scientists for their criticism of his performance.
“People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots,” Trump said of Dr. Anthony Fauci, declaring the government’s top infectious disease expert “a disaster.” He suggested it would create a controversy to fire him.
Fauci, in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday, had said he was not surprised by Trump coming down with the virus after he held large events with no face coverings. Fauci also objected to the president’s campaign using his words in a campaign ad.
“I was worried that he was going to get sick when I saw him in a completely precarious situation of crowded no separation between people, and almost nobody wearing a mask,” Fauci said of the president.
Trump dialed in to his staffers Monday from Las Vegas, where he was on the third day of a campaign swing to the West. He was to hold rallies in Prescott and Tucson in Arizona before returning to the White House.
On Sunday night in Carson City, Nevada, Trump addressed thousands of supporters who sat elbow to elbow, cheering him and booing Biden and the press. The vast majority wore no masks to guard against the coronavirus, though cases in the state are on the rise, with more than 1,000 new infections reported Saturday. The Republican president, as he often does, warned that a Biden election would lead to further lockdowns and appeared to mock Biden for saying he would listen to scientists.
“He’ll listen to the scientists. If I listened totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression,” Trump said.
In addition to public polling that indicates Biden has an edge, the former vice president enjoys another considerable advantage over Trump: money.
Trump raked in $12 million during a fundraiser Sunday afternoon at the Newport Beach home of top GOP donor and tech mogul Palmer Luckey, which also featured a performance by the Beach Boys.
But over the past four months, Biden has raised over $1 billion, a massive amount of money that has eclipsed Trump’s once-overwhelming cash advantage.
That’s become apparent in advertising, where Biden and his Democratic allies are on pace to spend twice as much as Trump and the Republicans in the closing days of the race, according to data from the ad tracking firm Kantar/CMAG.
Though Trump has pulled back from advertising in Midwestern states that secured his 2016 win, he’s invested heavily elsewhere, including North Carolina, where he is on pace to slightly outspend Biden in the days ahead.
In Nevada, which Trump came close to winning in 2016, Democrats are set to outspend Trump in the closing days by a more than 3-to-1 ratio.
Trump argued that his rallies could help make up the difference in states that remain close.
“Where we have states that are sort of tipping could go either way,” he said. “I have an ability to go to those states and rally. Biden has no ability, I go to a rally we have 25,000 people. He goes to a rally and he has four people.”
Trump’s visit to the state is part of an aggressive schedule of campaign events, where he has leaned heavily into fear tactics.
Trump’s Carson City rally was held at an airport with a golden scrub brush-covered hill providing a dramatic backdrop. He relived fond moments from his 2016 campaign against Hillary Clinton, revisited his long-running feud with NFL players and went on an extended rant about water management policy, which he blamed for people having to “flush their toilet 15 times.”
___ Slodysko reported from Washington and Weissert from Durham, North Carolina. Associated Press Writer Elana Schor in Washington contributed to this report.