As he huddled with advisers on Friday evening, President Donald Trump was still fuming over his sliding poll numbers and the onslaught of criticism he was facing for suggesting a day earlier that ingesting disinfectant might prove effective against coronavirus.
Within moments, the President was shouting – not at the aides in the room, but into the phone – at his campaign manager Brad Parscale, three people familiar with the matter told CNN. Shifting the blame away from himself, Trump berated Parscale for a recent spate of damaging poll numbers, even at one point threatening to sue Parscale. It’s not clear how serious the President’s threat of a lawsuit was.
Trump defended Parscale in a tweet on Thursday, writing, “Actually, he is doing a great job. I never shouted at him (been with me for years, including the 2016 win), & have no intention to do so.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a CNN request for comment, and the Trump campaign declined to comment.
On Thursday, Parscale tweeted that Trump “didn’t yell at me,” though the campaign manager did not deny a dust-up with Trump or Trump’s threat to sue him.
“There’s absolutely no daylight between us,” Parscale tweeted.
Faced with an increasingly uphill battle for reelection and aides trying to steer him in new, sometimes conflicting directions, Trump has grown increasingly unnerved in the last week about his reelection prospects. Lashing out at Parscale was just the most recent manifestation of that anxiety.
“He’s p*ssed because he knows he messed up in those briefings,” one Republican close to the White House said of Trump lashing out.
Last Wednesday, two days before Trump lashed out at Parscale, his campaign manager and several other top political advisers briefed him on internal campaign and Republican National Committee data showing the President was heading for defeat in key battleground states. Parscale, RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel and other advisers urged him to scale back his daily, combative news conferences and pointed to data showing that the briefings were hurting him with critical swing voters in those states.
Trump told Reuters in an interview Wednesday he doesn’t “believe the polls.”
“I believe the people of this country are smart. And I don’t think that they will put a man in who’s incompetent,” he said, an apparent reference to former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.
Trump has complained to aides that his restricted travel has hurt his numbers, not the briefings.
One person familiar with the call said the message didn’t appear to sink in with the President, who instead changed the subject away from the issue of briefings.
But the next day, Trump’s outlandish comments about disinfectant only amplified those advisers’ urgings. Even as he erupted at Parscale on Friday evening, during that day’s briefing the President took no questions. And the next day he scrapped the briefing altogether.
While Trump has scaled back his news conferences this week and even opted for a less combative tone during a news conference on Monday, aides are unsure whether the new approach will stick. And Trump has still found venues to field questions from reporters and share his views on the day’s news, including during lengthy pool sprays in the Oval Office.
Despite the outburst, two sources said Trump and Parscale patched things up later that Friday night.
But Parscale, who has been working from his south Florida home for the past month, flew back to Washington on Tuesday to get some face time with his boss.
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Two sources familiar with the matter said Parscale spent several hours at the White House where he discussed reelection strategy with Trump and secured his approval for new campaign ads that will knock former Biden for his stance on China.
“Everything he ever did was bad. His foreign policy was a disaster,” Trump told Reuters Wednesday. Trump told the outlet he believes “China will do anything they can to have me lose this race” because he believes they want Biden to win the race.
Trump also said in the interview that he does not view the election as a reflection of how his administration has handled the coronavirus pandemic.
“No, I don’t think so. I think it’s a referendum on a lot of things,” Trump said as confirmed cases of the virus in the United States topped 1 million. “I think it’s going to be a referendum on all the things we’ve done and certainly this will be a part of it, but we’ve done a great job.”
Trump, who has been criticized for his early response to the coronavirus, also continued blame China for its response to the virus that broke out in Wuhan and said he was considering “consequences for Beijing over the virus,” Reuters reported.
This story was updated Thursday with additional information.
CORRECTION: This story has been updated to accurately reflect Parscale flew back to Washington on Tuesday.