ANALYSIS: Trump in a precarious position heading toward Election Day

By Julie Pace - AP Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is asking Americans to let him keep his job. His critics are questioning how much of that job he’s actually doing.

The questions have gotten louder in recent days following revelations Trump didn’t read at least two written intelligence briefings about Russia paying bounties to the Taliban for the deaths of Americans in Afghanistan.

He also appeared to either downplay or miss repeated warnings about the coronavirus included in intelligence briefings, and he’s been reluctant to amplify some of his own government’s recommendations for reducing transmission, including wearing masks.

“He is not doing his job,” said Michael Hayden, former director of the CIA and the National Security Agency.

Such assessments put Trump in a precarious position four months from Election Day and risk undercutting the central argument most incumbents make to voters when seeking reelection: Keep me on the job because I’ve proved I can do it.

Instead, Trump’s uneven handling of the crises battering the nation, and the new revelations about his lack of attention to intelligence, have given Democrats an opening to argue to voters the president has proved he’s ill-equipped to lead the nation through tough times, or outright absent in moments that demand leadership.

Trump came to power without any experience in governing, making the case to voters the go-with-your-gut decisions that helped him in business and as a reality television star would serve him as president. For some Americans disillusioned with career politicians in both parties, his outsider credentials were part of the appeal.

Trump has indeed taken an unconventional approach to the presidency. He’s known to demand only the sparest detail in his briefings, and his workdays frequently include hours watching cable news and posting on Twitter. White House aides have at times been leery of delivering bad news to him for fear of sparking an angry reaction. They said there’s particular concern in the West Wing about discussing Russia because the subject can send Trump into a tirade about accusations he has a too-cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin and about the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The current and former advisers insisted on anonymity to discuss their private dealings with the president.

Trump’s tweets for any occasion and obsession with dominating the news cycle, even if it involves something negative, has sustained him for much of his presidency, when many of the crises were of his own making or fleeting in nature. Republicans often bristled at his tone and tweets but justified their support for him by pointing to the strong economy and the new generation of conservative judges he nominated to the courts.

But 2020 has been a year that’s demanded more substance than style from the president. More than 125,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and known infections are rising in several states. The strong economy Trump hoped to run on has cratered. And the deaths of several Black Americans has sparked a national reckoning over race and police brutality.

On each of those matters, Trump’s critics — and some of his allies — argue he’s fallen short rather than rising to the moment.

Trump has all but declared the pandemic over and has focused aggressively on reopening the economy, even as some Republican allies in key states start rolling back those efforts in a bid to contain outbreaks. The president has also been largely absent from the discussion of systemic racism. His focus instead has been on defending the prominent placement of memorials to Confederate figures.

Democrats say the revelations over the past week that the president may not have read or absorbed intelligence briefings have put a finer point on the questions they’re raising about his competency. The White House insisted Trump was unaware of assessments that Russia had put a bounty on U.S. service members in Afghanistan, though intelligence officials told the AP that the matter was included in at least two written briefings over the past year and that senior advisers alerted the president to the intelligence.

Republicans have defended Trump, saying the recent attacks are just another case of media bias.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany reminds critic, “This president is the most informed person on planet Earth.”

By Julie Pace

AP Washington Bureau Chief

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