WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s advisers presented him with the results of internal polling last week that showed him falling behind former vice president Joe Biden in key swing states in the presidential race, part of an effort by aides to curtail Trump’s freewheeling daily briefings on the coronavirus pandemic, according to three people with knowledge of the conversations.
The president spoke with campaign manager Brad Parscale, White House senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, among other officials, in calls and meetings last Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, according to the three people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal internal discussions.
One call on Wednesday — with Parscale patched in from his home in Florida and McDaniel from hers in Michigan — was designed to present grim polling data to the president to encourage him to reduce the frequency of coronavirus briefings or to stop taking questions, after seeing his numbers slip for several weeks, officials said.
Trump resisted the pleas, saying people “love” the briefings and think he is “fighting for them,” a person with knowledge of the Wednesday conversation said. Trump has long been distrustful of polling data presented to him when the numbers are negative, aides say.
The two polls given to Trump — one from the Republican National Committee and another from the Trump campaign — both showed Trump trailing Biden in swing states, officials said. His political team has grown more concerned in recent weeks, as the briefings became more combative while the economy cratered and coronavirus deaths continued to rise.
On Thursday, Trump set off a new uproar with his suggestion that injecting bleach or other disinfectants could help kill the novel virus — prompting a scramble by the administration to contain the damage.
The president held no briefings over the weekend and has taken fewer questions this week, with no appearances in the briefing room. Aides say they are hoping to soon have the president travel outside Washington, meet with governors in the Oval Office and participate in events that are focused on the economy.
RNC and Trump campaign officials did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday on the polling.
Aides described Trump as in a particularly foul mood last week because of the polling data and news coverage of his administration’s response to the pandemic, according to two of the people familiar with the discussions. In one call, he berated Parscale over the polling data, the two people said.
At one point in that call, Trump said he might sue Parscale, though one of the people with knowledge of the comments said he made the remark in jest. News of Trump’s eruption at Parscale was first reported Wednesday by CNN.
Trump told Parscale that he did not believe the polling that had been presented to him, even though it came from the campaign and the RNC.
“I’m not losing to Joe Biden,” Trump said at one point, both of these people said, adding that the president used profanities throughout the call.
After the call, Parscale described it to others as a Trump venting session, these people said.
Trump ranted to other aides for several days about a story in The New York Times that described him as spending much of his day watching television and calling people on the phone.
He was also angry about coronavirus testing — telling advisers that he was unfairly getting crushed in the media over shortages in the United States. Trump this week announced a set of testing guidelines that continued to leave the onus on states to develop their own plans.
“He was just in a terrible mood with everyone late last week,” a fourth official said.
Parscale came to the Oval Office on Tuesday for a long meeting with Trump in which the hatchet was buried, one of the people said. He brought polling numbers that were more positive for Trump, and the president seemed in a far better mood, people with knowledge of the meeting said.