“A lot of Republican consultants are frustrated because we want the president’s campaign to be laser-focused on the economy,” said David Kochel, a Republican strategist in Iowa. “Their best message is: Trump built a great economy” and Covid-19 damaged it, and Mr. Trump is a better option than Mr. Biden to restore it, he said.
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“Our base loves the stuff about Hunter Biden, laptops and Mayor Giuliani,” Mr. Kochel added. “But they’re already voting for Trump.”
Before Mr. Trump’s upset win in 2016, his campaign also mixed public boasting with private anxiety about the apparent likelihood of defeat. But then, unlike now, Mr. Trump closed the race with a jackhammer message attacking Hillary Clinton as a corrupt insider and promising sweeping economic changes — an argument far clearer than what he is offering today.
Mr. Stepien and other campaign leaders, including Jason Miller, a senior strategist, have stressed to Republicans in Washington that they expect to outperform the public polls. They say their own data suggests a closer race in a number of states, including Arizona and Pennsylvania, than surveys conducted by news organizations. They are wagering that voter registration and the turnout machinery Mr. Trump’s team has built over the past four years will ultimately give them an edge in narrowly divided states on Election Day.
Still, some prominent Republicans have noted in newly direct language the possibility — and even the likelihood — of defeat for the president. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a close ally, said this week that Democrats had “a good chance of winning the White House,” while Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska said his party might be facing a “blood bath.”
Though fear of retaliation by Mr. Trump has muzzled most members of the party, strategists are deeply concerned that Mr. Trump might spend the final weeks of the campaign entertaining and energizing his existing supporters while eschewing any concerted effort to find new ones — an approach that could cripple other Republicans running for office.
Ken Spain, a Republican strategist, said Mr. Trump was “not delivering a consistent message at the most critical juncture of the campaign.”