Trump faces new character tests as election campaign enters final stretch

The remarks, reported first in The Atlantic magazine and corroborated by several outlets, including CNN, seemed so in character with Trump’s public persona that even an onslaught of denials from current and former officials did little to negate the impression that Trump is a man who sometimes says terrible things.
When excerpts soon followed of his former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen’s book portraying Trump as a cheat, liar, fraud, bully, racist, predator and con man, the surprise again failed to materialize — even though Cohen had worked intimately with Trump for years.

Now, as the presidential campaign begins its post-Labor Day finale, the question has become less about what Americans know of Trump’s character but whether they care.

Trump appears to be betting they don’t. He’s continued his attacks on war heroes and generals, even as he tries to claim utmost respect for the military. And he’s dismissing efforts to reckon with the country’s racist past, even as he works to convince suburban White voters he’s not racist himself.

Just as voters’ threshold for bad behavior was tested in the final days of 2016, when Trump’s vulgar on-camera comments about molesting women rocked the race, Americans this time around find themselves again forced to decide whether Trump’s character really matters to them. In the broad scheme of things back then, it didn’t and he won.

But 2020 could be different: since that race, voters have been bombarded with more examples of the President using crude, sexist or racist language, erasing any notion the office might change him and throwing the country’s politics into turmoil.

An election about character

At its heart, the 2020 presidential campaign has always been about character. Even a life-altering pandemic, an economic calamity and a national racial reckoning have become tests of the incumbent’s constitution: Whether Trump cared enough to confront a health crisis, whether he understood the suffering of out-of-work Americans and whether he could speak with compassion to those who have historically been oppressed in the United States.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, has expressly made Trump’s character the central argument of his campaign, and has been candid that he might not be running for president right now if the incumbent were a traditional Republican and not someone who — in Biden’s telling — lacks the moral authority to lead the country.

He’s sought to cast himself as Trump’s moral opposite — and on Sunday, a few minutes after the President arrived for the 296th visit of his presidency to one of his golf clubs, Biden was arriving at church services at St. Joseph on the Brandywine in Wilmington, Delaware.

Biden puts two feet in the ring as Trump wobbles

Even Republicans appeared to acknowledge that character will play a central role in voters’ decision-making in November, programming their convention last month with personal testimonies to rebut suggestions that Trump is uncaring, sexist or racist in the hopes of wooing suburban voters who have been turned off by the President’s behavior.

Yet based on polls, which have remained mostly steady since the convention, those arguments did little to reverse what have become hardened views of Trump as uncaring, disrespectful and churlish. And it’s that impression of the President — which he hasn’t always attempted to rebut — that makes the allegations lodged this week so difficult for him to shake.

“If this is true it’s really reprehensible. The problem is, it is believable given the President’s past behavior and statements he made, most notably about Sen. McCain,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on CNN.

After The Atlantic article published, CNN’s Jim Acosta reported that a former senior administration official confirmed Trump referred to fallen US service members at the Aisne-Marne cemetery in France in crude and derogatory terms during a November 2018 trip to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
A person familiar with Trump’s views also said he has repeatedly questioned why Americans who served in Vietnam went to war, suggesting that veterans of that conflict didn’t know how to exploit the system to get out of serving. Trump received a draft deferment for bone spurs. The same source said Trump has also questioned why Americans would sign up to go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, wondering aloud, “What did they get out of it?”

Trump has been so enraged by the article that aides began lining up statements of denial nearly as soon as it published, people familiar with the matter said. Trump himself issued a forceful denial standing on a pitch-black tarmac Thursday evening, not seeming to notice there were no lights to illuminate his statement.

“Absolutely not,” Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie said when asked by CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” Sunday whether he’d ever heard the President disparage veterans. “And I would be offended too if…

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