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Trump’s Fear of Biden


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There is a theme that has run through President Trump’s entire re-election campaign: He is afraid that he cannot beat Joe Biden.

It explains his extraordinary efforts last year to prevent Biden from becoming the nominee. And it explains his more recent efforts to discredit the election. Rather than running against Biden, Trump now seems to be running against democracy itself.

I think it’s useful to think of the 2020 Trump campaign in three distinct stages. The first was during the run-up to the Democratic primaries, when Trump used the powers of the presidency to pressure at least one foreign country, Ukraine, to smear Biden (an effort that led to impeachment). Trump took no similar steps to damage Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren or Kamala Harris.

Why? Trump often acts on instinct, and he may have done so in this case. But he is also a voracious consumer of polls, and polls consistently showed him faring worse in a hypothetical matchup against Biden than against any other Democrat.

The second stage began after Biden clinched the nomination, and Trump doubled down on efforts to damage him. He portrayed Biden as a corrupt old politician, not so different from Hillary Clinton, or a closet socialist.

It hasn’t worked. Biden’s lead over Trump has remained stable.

That has led to the third stage: Try to prevent a normal election.

Trump, with help from other leading Republicans, has increased his efforts to make it difficult to vote. His campaign has filed lawsuits in North Carolina, Pennsylvania and elsewhere to restrict voting by mail. (The Times Magazine has a new investigation on this subject, including Mike Pence’s role.)

In recent weeks, Trump also began what seems like an obvious attempt at voter intimidation, encouraging his supporters to show up at polling places, purportedly to prevent voter fraud, which almost never occurs. Donald Trump Jr. has released a video calling for an “army for Trump’s election security operation.”

Tuesday’s debate was the apex of the strategy, at least for now. Trump refused to allow a normal debate, constantly interrupting Biden. For voters, the result was a chaotic jumble. For Trump, it was one more attempt to undermine the normal functioning of democracy.

There is still more than a month until Election Day — an eternity in politics. At this point, though, the picture from the last year and a half is remarkably consistent.

Trump seems to believe he would lose a normal election to Biden. But in an abnormal election, with low turnout and protracted fights over ballot eligibility, who knows what will happen? And if Trump does lose, he is laying the groundwork to make the false claim that the election was rigged.

As my colleague Maggie Haberman put it yesterday, “People close to him are blunt that the president knows he’s losing and is scared of it.”

A programming note: Starting today, we’ve reorganized the next section of this newsletter, “The Latest News.” The new format organizes stories more clearly by topic. We welcome feedback, at themorning@nytimes.com.

the 2020 campaign

other big stories

  • The Tokyo Stock Exchange shut down most of today because of a technical glitch.

  • The baby son of the celebrity couple Chrissy Teigen and John Legend died shortly after birth.

  • A judge in Brooklyn sentenced Clare Bronfman, an heir to the Seagram’s liquor fortune, to more than six years in prison for her role in Nxivm, a purported self-help group that members said was an abusive cult.

  • The Los Angeles Lakers easily beat the Miami Heat in the first game of the N.B.A. finals, 116-98.

  • A Morning read: The city of Denver is working to add green spaces to minority communities that have long lacked them — and that endure worse heat and fewer opportunities for outdoor activities as a result.

  • Lives Lived: He was known as the “Berlin Patient,” the first person cured of H.I.V. Only later did we learn his name, Timothy Ray Brown, a Seattle native who underwent a successful experimental bone marrow transplant in Berlin in 2007. He died, of leukemia, at 54.

New York City announced last month that its school system would not allow snow days this year, instead requiring students to learn from home. The change could be the beginning of the end for the snow day as we know it.

Schools that lost instructional time during the pandemic are desperate not to lose any more, and both teachers and students are now far more familiar with virtual learning. So it’s easy to imagine how snow days will turn into virtual-learning days even after the pandemic ends. Some snow-prone states, like Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, have given districts this option for several years.

Is it a good idea? Opponents of snow days point to the pressure they put on working parents, as well as the problem of missed meals for low-income students. Of course, a virtual-learning day does little to solve either of those issues. And snow days are one of the great spontaneous joys of childhood. They are, as one mother told The Times, a “pause on real life and a chance to let kids be kids.”

School administrators in Shakopee, Minn., are cleverly trying to have it both ways. They recently made the switch to virtual learning when it snows but will also set aside one day a year for a scheduled snow day. “In Minnesota,” Mike Redmond, the Shakopee superintendent, said, “it’s like a birthright you should have a snow day.”

Make this tangy, salty-sweet pasta tonight, inspired by traditional caponata, an Italian dish that revolves around sautéed eggplant. The mix of eggplant and creamy ricotta makes for a hearty vegetarian meal.

In Hollywood, Hispanic stories usually mean ones from other countries, largely overlooking the experiences of U.S.-raised Latinos. “The context, details and nuances that go into telling the story of a family in Mexico City won’t be the same for the story of a family in Los Angeles, which would in turn differ for one in Miami,” writes the film critic Carlos Aguilar.

In honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Aguilar put together a list of the 20 essential films since 2000 that capture the American Latino experience.

In 2020, Crocs reign supreme. The comfortable foam clogs, long the chosen footwear of toddlers and gardeners, have crept into the fashion mainstream. That’s largely thanks to branded collaborations, like one with the luxury fashion house Balenciaga in 2017. You can now find Grateful Dead Crocs, KFC Crocs and even Drew Barrymore Crocs.

On Tuesday, the latest special edition, designed with the Latin pop star Bad Bunny and adorned with glow-in-the-dark charms, sold out within 16 minutes.

Here’s today’s Mini Crossword, and a clue: Guinness World Record holder for “English word with the most meanings” (three letters).

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