WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump's re-election campaign urged surrogates in a call Wednesday to capitalize on the coronavirus pandemic to attack his rival Joe Biden and other Democrats as "the opposition" in Trump's war against the outbreak, according to a person who participated in the call.
"This is the bottom line: President Trump is leading the nation in this war against the coronavirus, and Joe Biden, the Democrats and the media have decided to be the opposition in that war," Tim Murtaugh, the campaign's director of communications, said in a phone conversation with surrogates, according to the source.
Campaigning ahead of the November election has ground to a halt as the nation grapples with a pandemic that the White House estimates could kill more than 100,000 Americans in the coming weeks. The call with Trump's campaign officials provides an insight into how the campaign continues to operate in the background.
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Other officials on the call, including campaign manager Brad Parscale and senior adviser Lara Trump, the president's daughter-in-law, pointed to the increase in the number of Americans watching the news and encouraged surrogates to capitalize on the attention not to bolster Trump's handling of the pandemic but to attack Biden.
"I know everyone is worried making sure everyone thinks the president is doing a great job on this," Parscale said, according to the source, but "we need to continue to pick up the pace" on Biden.
Trump continues to appear daily on television, holding briefings from the White House that frequently stretch over an hour and draw millions of viewers.
"Because 84 percent of people are watching right now the press conferences, a large amount of people watching news and your hits, this is an opportunity for you to really establish a narrative on Biden," Parscale said, according to the source. "If all of you on the phone could really kind of double down on Biden during this and the contrast ... between how President Trump is handling this and how Biden is handling it."
Biden has largely been confined to his Delaware home, lobbing criticism at Trump's handling of the crisis in media appearances and over at-times spotty internet feeds. A super PAC backing his bid has been running ads attacking Trump.
Surrogates who participated in the call included the YouTube celebrities Diamond and Silk, former Ohio politician Ken Blackwell and multiple representatives from Women for Trump.
Murtaugh, asked about the call, said the campaign wants supporters to highlight that Democrats "positioned themselves as the opposition."
"We want to make sure our surrogates are drawing a contrast between the President's effective leadership and Joe Biden's poor record and futile quest for relevance," he said in a statement.
On the call, Murtaugh advised surrogates to suggest that Trump's impeachment trial in January distracted from early efforts to respond to the emerging coronavirus — echoing an argument that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and other Republicans have repeated this week.
"Remember that the Senate vote to acquit President Trump after the impeachment by the House didn't occur until near the end of the first week of February," Murtaugh said. "So all that time Democrats were fixated on impeachment and removal while the president was already working on the coronavirus."
Murtaugh told surrogates to draw parallels between the impeachment proceedings, which Trump and his supporters have called a "hoax," and the coronavirus, saying on the call that the outbreak was the Democrats' latest effort to discredit Trump.
"Now their new weapon is to try and attack the president over this coronavirus outbreak," Murtaugh said.