'Idiots': Donald Trump's wild phone call


Welcome to our coverage of the US election campaign.

We are just over two weeks out from election day, which means President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden are very much in the home stretch.

So, from now on we will be running a daily blog with all the news you need from the campaign trail.

Today reporters were invited to listen to a phone call Mr Trump held with his campaign staff. As a result, we know exactly what he said - and some of the quotes were wild.

Speaking about the coronavirus, for example, the President had a go at his own top adviser Dr Anthony Fauci, whose appearance on 60 Minutes this week appears to have rankled him.

"People are saying, 'Whatever, just leave us alone.' They're tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots. Fauci is a nice guy. He's been here for 500 years," Mr Trump said.

"Fauci is a disaster. If I listened to him, we'd have 500,000 deaths.

"If there's a reporter on, you can have it just the way I said it. I couldn't care less."

Read on for more details from Mr Trump's phone call, and all the other news from the campaign.

Full rolling coverage here

Trump calls reporter a 'criminal'

Mr Trump has arrived in Arizona, where he's going to hold a couple of rallies. He briefly spoke to reporters after disembarking, and called one of them a criminal.

The reporter in question had asked why the President was going around claiming his opponent, Joe Biden, was a criminal.

"He is a criminal. He's a criminal. He got caught, read his laptop. And you know who's a criminal? You're a criminal for not reporting it," Mr Trump said.

"Let me tell you something. Joe Biden is a criminal, and he's been a criminal for a long time. And you're a criminal, and the media, for not reporting it."

President goes after Fauci on Twitter

Now the President is tweeting about Dr Anthony Fauci.

As expected, he did not like Dr Fauci's 60 Minutes interview, which we covered at length earlier.

Mr Trump indulged in a little mockery of the bad pitch the infectious disease expert threw out at a baseball game.

Trump rejects story about campaign's pessimism

Donald Trump appears to be agitated about this story from The New York Times, which alleges his staff are privately pessimistic about his chances of winning the election.

"Away from their candidate and the television cameras, some of Mr. Trump's aides are quietly conceding just how dire his political predicament appears to be, and his inner circle has returned to a state of recriminations and backbiting," the story says.

Mr Trump mentioned it during his phone call with campaign staff earlier, and now he has tweeted at one of its authors, Maggie Haberman, to dispute its contents.

"Every rally is BOFFO," the President says, truly a quote for the ages.

Demi Lovato goes after Trump

The Lincoln Project, a group of anti-Trump Republicans which seems to exist to troll the President, has posted a new song by the pop star Demi Lovato.

It's about how Mr Trump is bad and stuff.

In other Demi Lovato news, the singer says she has been spending some time talking to aliens recently.

"Over the past couple months I have dug deep into the science of consciousness and experienced not only peace and serenity like I've never known but I also have witnessed the most incredibly profound sightings both in the sky as well as feet away from me," she said on Instagram.

"This planet is on a very negative path towards destruction but we can change that together. If we were to get 1 per cent of the population to meditate and make contact, we would force our governments to acknowledge the truth about extraterrestrial life among us and change our destructive habits destroying our planet."


Trump cuts loose in wild phone call

A whole bunch of reporters were invited to listen in on a phone call President Trump held with his campaign staff a short time ago.

As a result, we know exactly what Mr Trump said, and a few of the quotes are pretty goddamn wild.

Speaking about the coronavirus, the President had a go at Dr Anthony Fauci, which suggests he saw and disapproved of the infectious disease expert's remarks on 60 Minutes.

"People are saying, 'Whatever, just leave us alone.' They're tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots. Fauci is a nice guy. He's been here for 500 years," Mr Trump said.

"Fauci is a disaster. If I listened to him, we'd have 500,000 deaths.

"If there's a reporter on, you can have it just the way I said it. I couldn't care less."

On another subject, Mr Trump complained, falsely, that The New York Times had not reached out to him for comment in "two years".

Its reporters took to social media to point out that he was interviewed by the paper at length just a couple of months ago.

"Our people don't read The New York Times. They couldn't give a s*** about it," he added.

"He should be in jail," Mr Trump said of his opponent, Joe Biden.

And he reassured his staff that he would win the election.

"We're going to win. I wouldn't have told you that maybe two or three weeks ago.

"As of today, this is the single best I have ever been in any campaign. The first one I was losing until the last day."

Either the President is putting a brave spin on things here, or the campaign really does have internal polling showing him doing well. Because the public polling is abysmal for him.

The RealClearPolitics average has Mr Biden up by about 9 per cent - the gap has widened noticeably in recent weeks - and leading by a more modest 4 per cent in the swing states.

Mr Trump was essentially correct about 2016 though. Four years ago, a large pool of undecided voters (most of whom disliked both candidates) broke decisively towards Mr Trump in the final days of the campaign.

Eerie prediction four years ago

One last thing from 60 Minutes before I move on.

The program pointed back to an eerie prediction Dr Fauci made during another interview with it four years before the coronavirus pandemic.

He was asked about his greatest fear. This was his response.

"An influenza-like respiratory-borne virus that's easily transmittable, to which the population of the world has very little if any immunity against, and that has a high degree of morbidity and mortality."

Dr Fauci also said it would be "something similar" to the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.

Fauci explains shifting advice on masks

When Donald Trump is asked about his mixed messaging on face masks - which happens pretty much whenever he faces serious questions - he invariably cites Dr Anthony Fauci's advice from early in the pandemic, when he told Americans they did not need to wear masks.

Dr Fauci has addressed this a few times in the past, saying he was worried normal Americans would panic buy surgical masks and cause a shortage for medical workers.

On 60 Minutes, he tried to put the issue "to rest".

"Let's see if we can put this to rest once and for all," Dr Fauci said.

"It became clear that cloth coverings, things like this here (he pulled out a cloth mask), and not necessarily a surgical covering or an N95, cloth coverings work.

"So now there's no longer a shortage of masks.

"Number two. Meta-analysis studies show that contrary to what we thought, masks really do work in preventing infection. No doubt.

"When you find out you're wrong, it's a manifestation of your honesty to say, 'Hey, I was wrong.'"

Fauci's anger: 'I got really ticked off'

The American version of 60 Minutes featured an interview with Dr Anthony Fauci this week.

As usual, his assessment of America's coronavirus epidemic was rather different from President Trump's.

"When you have a million deaths and over 30 million infections globally, you cannot say that we're on the road to essentially getting out of this," Dr Fauci said.

"Quite frankly, I don't know where we are. It's impossible to say."

Contrast that with what Mr Trump told his supporters at that rally in Nevada a few hours ago.

"The pandemic is rounding the turn," the President said.

"And we have the vaccines coming and they go crazy, the fake news. But I will tell you, it's rounding the turn with or without, it's rounding the turn. You'll see that.

"Normal life, that's all we want. We want normal life. We want normal. We want to be where we were seven months ago, right?"

Dr Fauci did stress that he would not recommend a national lockdown due to the virus unless things got "really, really bad".

"First of all, the country is fatigued with restrictions," he said.

"So we want to use public health measures not to get in the way of opening the economy, but to be a safe gateway to opening the economy."

The interviewer asked whether Dr Fauci was surprised when Mr Trump himself caught the virus.

"Absolutely not," he replied.

"I was worried that he was going to get sick when I saw him in a completely precarious situation of crowded, no separation between people, and almost nobody wearing a mask. When I saw that on TV I said, 'Oh my goodness. Nothing good can come out of that.'

"And then sure enough, it turned out to be a superspreader event."

He was referring to a suspected superspreader event in the White House's Rose Garden, which has been linked to a large number of infections.

And in another moment sure to bother the President, Dr Fauci openly admitted he got angry about the Trump campaign's decision to feature him in an election ad.

The ad used a quote from the early months of the pandemic, and pulled it out of context to make it seem as though Dr Fauci was praising Mr Trump.

"I can't imagine that anybody could be doing more," he said.

"I do not and nor will I ever publicly endorse any political candidate," he told 60 Minutes.

"And here I am - they're sticking me right in the middle of a campaign ad, which I thought was outrageous.

"I was referring to something entirely different. I was referring to the gruelling work of the task force."

"Did the steam start to come out of your ears?" asked the interviewer.

"It did! Quite frankly, I got really ticked off," Dr Fauci said.

Biden campaign's dodgy response to Trump

We already mentioned Joe Biden's one-word response to Donald Trump's accusation that he "will listen to the scientists" if he wins the election. That word was "yes".

Here is a slightly longer statement from Biden campaign spokesman Andrew Bates.

"This is tellingly out of touch and the polar opposite of reality," Mr Bates said.

"Trump crashed the strong economy he inherited from the Obama-Biden administration by lying about and attacking the science, and layoffs are rising. Meanwhile, Joe Biden would create millions more jobs than Trump."

I've brought up this rather bland statement because it's an argument the Biden campaign makes fairly often, even though it is intellectually dishonest.

On the one hand, Mr Biden criticises Mr Trump for doing too little to combat the virus, implying he should have imposed stricter lockdown measures.

On the other, he blames the economic contraction on the President, even though it's largely a result of those lockdown measures.

Those two critiques contradict each other. You can blame Mr Trump for the spread of the virus or the economic crash, not both at once.

A fairer criticism, perhaps, would be to acknowledge that the economic pain has been necessary but attack Mr Trump (and Congress) for failing to provide struggling Americans with enough support. Just a thought.

Trouble on White House's virus task force

The Washington Post has an extensive new report on the inner workings of the White House's Coronavirus Task Force, and particularly the controversial contribution of Dr Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist President Trump recruited after watching his commentary on TV.

"Discord on the Coronavirus Task Force has worsened since the arrival in late summer of Atlas, whom colleagues said they regard as ill-informed, manipulative and at times dishonest," the paper says.

"As the White House coronavirus response coordinator, Deborah Birx is tasked with collecting and analyzing infection data and compiling charts detailing upticks and other trends. But Atlas routinely has challenged Birx's analysis and those of other doctors, including Anthony Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, with what the other doctors considered junk science, according to three senior administration officials."

According to this report, Dr Birx recently went to the head of the task force, Vice President Mike Pence, and told him she wants Dr Atlas removed from it.

Dr Atlas has opposed attempts to expand testing for the virus, questioned the value of social distancing and suggested there is no point wearing face masks.

"Masks work? NO," he said in a post removed by Twitter this week.

He has also advocated dealing with the virus through herd immunity, which would involve allowing it to spread through the American population while trying to protect the most vulnerable people.

Dr Atlas has slammed The Post's story, saying it is "filled with overt lies and distortions to undermine the President and the expert advice he is being given".

The paper, for its part, says its reporting is based on interviews with 41 administration officials, health experts and people with knowledge of the task force's deliberations.

Americans prioritise limiting the virus's spread

I did a teensy bit of editorialising in that last post, so let me explain why I find Donald Trump's latest attack on Joe Biden so baffling.

A Fox News survey published earlier this month asked Americans a couple of key questions about the coronavirus response.

First, it asked whether they supported or opposed requiring everyone in the US to wear a face mask while outside their home.

Seventy-two per cent of the respondents favoured the idea. Just 21 per cent were against it.

A second question asked what the federal government's top priority should be - limiting the spread of the virus even if it hurts the economy, or restarting the economy even if it increases the risk to public health.

Fifty-nine per cent prioritised limiting the virus's spread, compared to 32 per cent who thought reopening was more important.

Those are significant majorities, far too large to be a result of polling error. And they are consistent with the numbers we have seen throughout pretty much the entire pandemic.

So when Mr Trump uses this kind of rhetoric, warning voters that Mr Biden "will listen to the scientists" and potentially impose new lockdowns to slow the virus's spread, he is gifting his opponent an overwhelmingly popular position and saddling himself with a deeply unpopular one.

It's weird politics. But hey, I guess that has worked for the President before.

Trump warns Biden 'will listen to the scientists'

OK let's get stuck in.

A few hours ago, President Trump held a rally with his supporters in Nevada, a swing state where Joe Biden is currently leading by about 5 per cent.

His speech was mostly a collection of his greatest hits, but there was one fresh line of attack against Mr Biden. Mr Trump warned his opponent "will listen to the scientists" if he gets elected and becomes president.

To be clear, he meant that as a negative.

"If you vote for Biden, he will surrender your jobs to China. He will surrender your future to the virus. He's going to lock down, he's going to want us to lock down," Mr Trump said.

"He will listen to the scientists. If I listened totally to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression, instead of - we're like a rocket ship. Take a look at the numbers."

The most recent economic number we have out of the US is 900,000 - the number of new unemployment claims reported by the government late last week. Meanwhile, a study by Columbia University found eight million Americans had fallen into poverty since May.

The official unemployment rate is 7.9 per cent, which is significantly better than the 14 per cent it reached at the peak of the crisis.

And while we're talking about numbers, the US death toll from the coronavirus according to Johns Hopkins University is over 219,000.

Infections are surging across most of the country, with just two states - Vermont and Maine - recording decreases in their daily cases this past week.

For those of you keeping track, that means we are now approaching America's third peak.



Originally published as 'Idiots': Donald Trump's wild phone call