In Depth

Does Donald Trump really want a second term in the White House?

A string of seemingly self-sabotaging statements has some analysts doubting the president’s interest in the job

Donald Trump is facing ridicule and disbelief after telling a campaign rally that has instructed his administration to “slow the testing down” for the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Amid growing outrage, the president’s advisers claimed his comments to supporters in the Oklahoma city of Tulsa on Saturday had been “tongue-in-cheek”. But addressing White House reporters on Tuesday, Trump insisted: “I don’t kid.”

“By having more tests, we have more cases. We’ve done 25 million. Therefore we have more cases,” he clarified.

His comments on coronavirus testing are the latest in a string of seemingly self-sabotaging statements that have prompted some analysts to ask: does Trump really want a second term in office?

Does Trump want out?

The president “is acting trapped and defensive, and his self-destructive behaviour has been so out of step for an incumbent in an election year that many advisers wonder if he is truly interested in serving a second term”, says The New York Times (NYT). 

Trump has reportedly “complained that nothing he does is good enough”, amid the fallout from his handling of the coronavirus crisis and the George Floyd protests.

And “people close to him” say that while Trump has “shown enthusiasm” for resuming his trademark rallies, “he has not seemed excited about the possibility of governing for four more years”, according to the newspaper.

Those claims have been denied by the White House.

A spokeswoman told the NYT that “the president is fully committed to serving a second term”, and that he wants to continue “building on and adding to his first-term accomplishments for the American people”.

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What are Trump’s chances of winning a second term?

As the 3 November election date draws nearer, Trump’s “path to re-election is getting steeper and steeper,” says The Hill.

As the Washington D.C.-based news site notes, recent polling has been “almost universally dire for the president”, with a Fox News poll last week putting him 12 points behind presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

The president has dismissed the Fox figures, tweeting that the news network had released “another of their phony polls, done by the same group of haters that got it even more wrong in 2016”.

But “the Fox poll is not an outlier”, says The Hill.

“Three other recent surveys, from CNN, CNBC and The Economist-YouGov, have Trump trailing Biden by broadly similar levels — 14 points, 10 points and 9 points, respectively.”

Could Trump’s behaviour be strategic?

Trump definitely intends to serve another term, according to CNN political analyst Julian Zelizer, who insists that the president’s “re-election strategy is starting to take form”.

Zelizer believes this strategy comes down to five points: ensuring a low voter turnout, propping up big business and Wall Street, fuelling anger in red (Republican) states, destroying Biden’s reputation, and ramping up anti-immigration rhetoric.

For Fox News’ Howard Kurtz, the president’s recent behaviour is simply true to form. Since taking office, Trump has enjoyed “thumbing his nose at the media geniuses” who wrote off his chances due to his “freewheeling, attacking style”. 

“Maybe his advisers are right that toning it down would improve his chances of beating Joe Biden,” Kurtz says. “But I have no doubt that is his goal.”

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