By Steve Holland – Japan Today
U.S. President Donald Trump told Reuters on Wednesday he does not believe opinion polls that show his likely Democratic presidential opponent, Joe Biden, leading in the 2020 race for the White House. During an interview in the Oval Office, the Republican president said he did not expect the election to be a referendum on his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and added he was surprised the former vice president was doing well.
“I don’t believe the polls,” Trump said. “I believe the people of this country are smart. And I don’t think that they will put a man in who’s incompetent.”
Trump has criticized Biden’s decades-long record as a U.S. senator and as President Barack Obama’s vice president.
“And I don’t mean incompetent because of a condition that he’s got now. I mean he’s incompetent for 30 years. Everything he ever did was bad. His foreign policy was a disaster,” Trump said.
Polls conducted this week by Reuters/Ipsos about a general election matchup showed that 44% of registered voters said they would back Biden in the Nov 3 election, while 40% said they would support Trump.
More critical for Trump, a recent poll by Reuters/Ipsos of the three key battleground states of Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania had Biden with a 45%-39% edge over the president. Trump’s victories in those states in the 2016 election helped propel him to the White House.
Trump recently lambasted his campaign manager, Brad Parscale, and other political advisers after they showed him poll numbers showing him losing the re-election race to Biden, according to a source familiar with the matter.
The president was told he was behind Biden in many key battleground states and would have lost the Electoral College if the election had taken place in April.
Trump told Reuters he did not view the election as a test of how he did with the pandemic.
“No, I don’t think so. I think it’s a referendum on a lot of things,” Trump said. “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.”
Biden has criticized Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
Trump said he would debate Biden in the autumn. “Of course,” he said.
The president has sought to stir up discord in Democratic Party ranks about Senator Bernie Sanders, who dropped out of the Democratic presidential race and endorsed Biden earlier this month.
The president has suggested that if fellow progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren had dropped out of the Democratic contest earlier, Sanders would have prevailed over Biden.
“He should never have won the primary, ever in a million years, because those votes were taken away. They were taken away from Bernie Sanders. And I think I’m going to get a lot of Bernie Sanders voters,” Trump said.
Trump has sought to make the case to Sanders’ supporters that their preferred candidate was not treated fairly, building on resentment that still lingers from 2016 when former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton beat Sanders for the nomination before losing to Trump in the general election.
Says China wants him to lose election
Trump also said he believes China’s handling of the coronavirus is proof that Beijing “will do anything they can” to make him lose his re-election bid in November.
Trump said he was looking at different options in terms of consequences for Beijing over the virus. “I can do a lot,” he said.
Trump has been heaping blame on China for a global pandemic that has killed at least 60,000 people in the United States according to a Reuters tally, and thrown the U.S. economy into a deep recession, putting in jeopardy his hopes for another four-year term.
The Republican president, often accused of not acting early enough to prepare the United States for the spread of the virus, said he believed China should have been more active in letting the world know about the coronavirus much sooner.
Asked whether he was considering the use of tariffs or even debt write-offs for China, Trump would not offer specifics.”There are many things I can do,” he said. “We’re looking for what happened.”
“China will do anything they can to have me lose this race,” said Trump. He said he believes Beijing wants Biden to win the race to ease the pressure Trump has placed on China over trade and other issues.
“They’re constantly using public relations to try to make it like they’re innocent parties,” he said of Chinese officials.
He said the trade deal that he concluded with Chinese President Xi Jinping aimed at reducing chronic U.S. trade deficits with China had been “upset very badly” by the economic fallout from the virus.
A senior Trump administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said on Wednesday that an informal“truce” in the war of words that Trump and Xi essentially agreed to in a phone call in late March now appeared to be over.
The two leaders had promised that their governments would do everything possible to cooperate to contain the coronavirus. In recent days, Washington and Beijing have traded increasingly bitter recriminations over the origin of the virus and the response to it.
However, Trump and his top aides, while stepping up their anti-China rhetoric, have stopped short of directly criticizing Xi, who the U.S. president has repeatedly called his “friend.”
Trump also said South Korea has agreed to pay the United States more money for a defense cooperation agreement but would not be drawn out on how much.
“We can make a deal. They want to make a deal,” Trump said.”They’ve agreed to pay a lot of money. They’re paying a lot more money than they did when I got here” in January 2017.
The United States stations roughly 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War that ended in an armistice, rather than a peace treaty.
Trump is leading a triage effort to try to keep the U.S. economy afloat through stimulus payments to individuals and companies while nudging state governors to carefully reopen their states as new infections decline.
He said he is happy with the way many governors are operating under the strain of the virus but said some need to improve. He would not name names.
Trump’s handling of the virus has come under scrutiny. Forty-three percent of Americans approved of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus, according to the Reuters/Ipsos poll from April 27-28.
But the president got some good news when Gilead Sciences Inc said it’s experimental antiviral drug remdesivir was showing progress in treating virus victims.
Trump has also seeking an accelerated timetable on development of a vaccine.
“I think things are moving along very nicely,” he said.
At the end of the half-hour interview, Trump offered lighthearted remarks about a newly released Navy video purportedly showing an unidentified flying object.
“I just wonder if it’s real,” he said. “That’s a hell of a video.”