COVID-19 is at the core of Donald Trump’s election woes: Goodwin

With apologies to James Carville, it’s the COVID, stupid.

The recent surge of coronavirus cases across much of the country is pushing the issue to the front of the presidential campaign. If the election were held today, the outcome would turn largely on voters’ judgment of how the candidates handled the issue.

The result would be Joe Biden in a landslide, the polls say. It’s a remarkable finding given that Biden rarely ventures out of his basement and hasn’t made any proposals beyond what the White House is already doing. Clearly, the Democrat is benefitting from public unhappiness with President Trump’s performance.

Florida is the latest example, with voters souring on both Gov. Ron DeSantis and Trump. A Quinnipiac survey finds just 38 percent approve of how DeSantis is handling the coronavirus, with 57 percent disapproving.

Trump has similar numbers there, and both Republicans are taking a beating in their overall job approval as a result.

DeSantis’ support has fallen off a cliff, suffering a 31-point swing in net approval. Trump’s fall is less precipitous, but big enough that Biden’s lead has grown from four points in an April Quinnipiac Poll to 13 points now.

Many Trump supporters don’t trust polls, but the president’s ­recent actions show he knows he has a major problem with how the public sees his performance on the virus.

Exhibit A was his return to the White House press room last week to give regular updates on the government’s response for the first time since late April.

Most striking was the difference in his tone. His March-through-April briefings featured bullish predictions, sometimes lasted two hours and often devolved into petty arguments with reporters, also known as Democrats with press credentials.

This time, the president, appearing alone instead of with his task force, read shorter statements that offered a softer, more sober assessment. He took fewer questions and answered them crisply, but the biggest changes were substantive.

On Tuesday, Trump endorsed wearing a mask and abandoned any talk of the virus disappearing quickly, even acknowledging that the spread “will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better. Something I don’t like saying about things, but that’s the way it is. It’s what we have.”

He followed that on Thursday by canceling the Jacksonville, Fla., portion of his party’s convention. “I think setting the example is very important. It’s hard for us to say we’re going to have a lot of people packed in a room, and then other people shouldn’t do it,” Trump said.

That would suggest no more of his trademark rallies are planned. The only one he’s held, in Tulsa, since the initial outbreak featured the rare sight of thousands of empty seats despite his campaign’s boast it had requests for 1 million tickets.

Soon after, the president shuffled the deck of his team and the retooled approach reflects the new leadership.

In a brief phone interview Friday, the president acknowledged that the COVID catastrophe, which has claimed 148,000 US lives, has reshaped the race.

“With the China virus, even ­George Washington would have had a hard time,” he told me. “We were sailing to victory, then we got hit hard by China.”

He maintains that “we’ve done a very good job but haven’t gotten credit for it,” and repeats his criticism that the focus on the rising number of infections reflects the rapid growth in the number of tests. “The testing creates cases for the press to talk about,” he said.

Indeed, while cases are skyrocketing and deaths are climbing far more gradually, media hysteria still makes it seem as if each positive case is a death sentence.

When I said that Steve Bannon was right to call the media the real opposition party, the president agreed and ranked his opponents in this order: The media first, Democratic Party second and Biden third.

Despite his acceptance of the need to get better grades from the public on handling the virus, the president clearly would like the focus of the campaign to be on other things. The economy he built until the outbreak remains his prime strength, and he is especially eager to draw a contrast with Biden on the riots and crime wave burning through urban ­areas. He is already running TV ads depicting an elderly woman calling 911 during an attempted break-in, only to get a recording.

“People are understanding the radical left, what’s happening in Oregon and Chicago and even New York,” Trump told me. “These are all run by super-liberal Democrats; in some cases they’re really radical,” citing Mayor Bill de Blasio and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Our time was running out, but I had one more question I’ve been wondering about. “Mr. President,” I asked, “do you pray?”

Silence, and then, “Yes.” After a brief pause, he continued, “The country needs it. I’m the only thing standing between the most crazed, radical lunatics,” and he again listed the cities under siege from anarchists.

“You’d have that nationwide with Joe Biden, who is corrupt and who cheated against my campaign,” he said. “This is the same ideology as Venezuela.”

That’s the main fight he wants to have. But to get there, he must first convince voters America is winning the COVID war. More prayers will be needed.

Gov. ‘Thug’

Gov. Andrew Cuomo can’t help himself. Asked if he would support an independent investigation into the nursing-home carnage, he again attacked The Post, me and fellow columnist Bob McManus.

He also added Fox News, an apparent reference to Janice Dean, the network’s senior meteorologist, who lost both her in-laws when the coronavirus swept through their nursing home. Dean has emerged as a potent voice for grieving families in demanding a probe of Cuomo.

The governor’s response illustrates why so many in Albany regard him as a thug. He personalizes all criticism and tries to isolate those who dare suggest the emperor has no clothes.

At least 6,500 elderly New Yorkers, and maybe double that number, died in state nursing homes, the vast majority of them after the Health Department ordered the homes to admit coronavirus patients. In an added dose of insanity, the order blocked the facilities from even asking if the patients had tested positive.

Obviously feeling the heat, Cuomo recently had his staff cook up a silly report absolving him and his Health Department of any responsibility, a claim so absurd that the effort added to the case against them. After all, why create a fictitious narrative if the facts are on your side?

Cardboard cops?

File this one under “don’t give him any ideas.”

Reader Harold Theurer writes: “The Mets sold 5,000 fans the ability to have cutouts of themselves at Citi Field to provide a fan presence to players.

“Perhaps Mayor 17% will place 5,000 cutouts of police officers in the most dangerous neighborhoods to combat crime.”

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