President Trump is running out the clock on his own re-election campaign.
With less than eight weeks left until the election, and with early voting beginning in some states this month, the number of days Mr. Trump can afford to burn is dwindling. He is trailing Joseph R. Biden Jr. in most national and battleground-state polls, and is facing a potential cash crunch, leaving him with less to invest in television ads after aggressive spending over the last three years.
Nevertheless, Mr. Trump has spent the last week playing defense, first in the wake of a report that he had referred to Americans who died in combat as “suckers” and “losers,” and then doing damage control after the release on Wednesday of excerpts from the journalist Bob Woodward’s new book, “Rage.”
On Thursday, Mr. Trump announced a surprise news conference where he had nothing to announce. He entered the briefing room simply to reiterate false statements about the administration’s coronavirus response and defend himself, again, against revelations in Mr. Woodward’s book.
Mr. Trump often feels compelled to defend himself, but that almost always merely keeps a story alive.
“Even though the calendar says 54 days, it’s really more like 40 days,” Mike Murphy, a veteran Republican strategist and former adviser to Jeb Bush, said Thursday, with a nod to the early voting. “And so every day, Trump is burning the one thing he can’t create more of, which is time — which is a disaster for him.”
The race is not over, strategists in both parties warn: Mr. Biden is prone to verbal slips his own supporters have winced at, external events can still affect the campaign, and it’s difficult to predict what voter turnout will look like amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Still, the polling has shown that Mr. Biden’s lead is durable. And while the president craves his campaign rallies, and his travel schedule has been more intense than Mr. Biden’s, he generally does not like leaving the White House, multiple advisers said, making it harder to come up with events that can dominate the news.
Mr. Trump, Mr. Murphy said, cannot resist treating the campaign “like the tabloid news cycle in New York City and create a news story about himself every day.” As a result, he said, “Trump is giving Biden the greatest gift a candidate who is behind can give a candidate who is ahead, which is wasted days.”