Donald Trump asks: ‘What if I lose?’ amid poor polling and chaotic campaign

Democrats upbeat but not taking double-digit leads in polls as sign of victory

MACON, GA - OCTOBER 16: Two women take a selfie next to a Trump bus in the parking lot of a campaign rally for President Donald Trump on October 16, 2020 in Macon, Georgia. President Trump continues to campaign against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden with 18 days until election day.   Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images/AFP
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It could have been President Donald Trump’s irony or a rare admission of his flagging election campaign when he asked supporters on Friday night: what if I lose to the worst candidate in history?

His comments received a cheer from the crowds, whipped up by what are now staples of Mr Trump’s rallies – the size of Democratic rival Joe Biden’s face mask, or accusing him of being "Sleepy" Joe.

Then there are the new attack lines – “Lock the Bidens up”, adding to his infamous 2016 slogan, “lock her up”, referring to then-rival Hillary Clinton.

But Mr Trump seemed to acknowledge that things might not go his way even as Democrats played down polls showing double-digit national leads.

"Running against the worst candidate in the history of presidential politics puts pressure on me. Could you imagine if I lose?" Mr Trump mused with a straight face.

MACON, GA - OCTOBER 16: President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally on October 16, 2020 in Macon, Georgia. President Trump continues to campaign against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden with 18 days until election day.   Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images/AFP

"What am I gonna do? I'm not gonna feel so good. Maybe I'll have to leave the country. I don't know."

The president fought on Friday to recover from sinking polls by campaigning with a hardline pitch to America's right-wing, claiming at rallies in Florida and Georgia that Mr Biden would deliver communism and a "flood" of criminal immigrants.

While Mr Trump put on a brave face, the fact that he was fighting for the two southern states he won four years ago illustrated how much ground he has to make up against the Democrats in the 18 days left before the election.

With his polls sliding and US Covid-19 infections surging, Mr Trump is focusing entirely on his core Republican base, in hopes that highly energised supporters will turn out in huge numbers.

In Ocala, Florida, the coronavirus was an afterthought.

Mr Trump tossed the large, loudly cheering crowd red meat on immigration, race and his conspiracy theory that Mr Biden is steeped in corruption.

Spicing his speech with lurid exaggerations, Mr Trump claimed that the "Biden family is a criminal enterprise".

He said Democrats "have nothing but disdain for your values" and "want to turn America into a communist country" – a reprise of his successful 2016 message tapping into white, working-class resentment.

"It's time we sent a message to these wealthy liberal hypocrites," he told the cheering crowd in Macon, Georgia, on Friday night.

Mr Trump also delivered racially charged comments on Latin American migrants, saying Democrats will "flood your communities with illegal aliens, drugs, crime".

And he lashed out at one of his most outspoken critics, Somalian-American Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar, saying "she hates our country" and "comes from a place that doesn't even have a government".

Mr Trump had still more venom for journalists, who he called "the enemy of the people".

Mr Biden, meanwhile, was campaigning in Michigan where he ripped into Trump's handling of the coronavirus, the strongest issue of his campaign.

"He keeps telling us that this virus is going to disappear like a miracle," he said in Southfield.

"My lord. It's not disappearing, in fact it's on the rise again, it's getting worse, as predicted."

Mr Biden also homed in on another area where Mr Trump has run into regular controversy: his often lacklustre responses when asked to condemn extreme right-wing groups and white supremacists.

He said Mr Trump's comments were a "dog whistle" to such groups.

"Look. Everybody knows who Donald Trump is. Let's show them who we are," Mr Biden said at a car rally in Detroit.

Members of the group "Arizona Republicans Who Believe In Treating Others With Respect" wave flags and hold signs in support of Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, during evening rush hour in Phoenix, Arizona on October 16, 2020. Arizona is one of the swing states that will determine the outcome of the November 3 US presidential election between Biden and US President Donald Trump. / AFP / Robyn Beck

"We choose hope over fear, unity over division, science over fiction and, yes, truth over lies."

But Biden campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon sounded a note of caution for Democrats, saying national polls were misleading.

"We are not ahead by double digits," Ms O'Malley Dillon said. "Those are inflated national public polling numbers."

Mr Biden will be getting help from former president Barack Obama on Wednesday next week when the man who had Mr Biden as his vice president campaigns in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

But even if Democrats are not banking on the polls, key members of Mr Trump’s Republican party are sounding the alarm.

Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, in a call with constituents this week, said a defeat for Mr Trump looks "likely" and Republicans may also lose the Senate, The Washington Examiner reported.

Mr Sasse also had harsh words for Mr Trump, saying he is "TV-obsessed," "narcissistic" and allowed his family to treat "the presidency like a business opportunity".

But Senator Lindsey Graham, a key Republican ally for Mr Trump, told AFP that voters were starting to weigh the pros and cons of the two parties, rather than focusing on Mr Trump's bruising personality.

"I think it's getting better for us by the day," he said.

Mr Trump and Biden are to hold a final debate next Thursday.

They had been scheduled to hold one last Thursday but Mr Trump backed out after it was changed to a virtual debate following his Covid-19 diagnosis.

They held rival town-hall forums instead.

Mr Trump, a former reality television star, will not be happy about their ratings: 14.1 million tuned in to Mr Biden's event, while 13.5 million watched Mr Trump, Nielsen ratings data shows.