TUCSON, ARIZONA - President Donald Trump heaped criticism Monday against Dr. Anthony Fauci, the press and the polls that show him trailing Democrat Joe Biden in key battleground states two weeks before Election Day.
On the third day of a Western campaign swing, Trump is hoping for the type of last-minute surge that gave him a come-from-behind victory four years ago.
His aggressive travel comes as Trump plays defense in states he won four years ago, though the president insisted he was confident as he executed a packed schedule despite the pandemic.
"We're going to win," he told campaign staff on a morning conference call from Las Vegas. He went on to acknowledge: "I wouldn't have told you that maybe two or three weeks ago," referring to the days when he was hospitalized with COVID-19.
Seeking to shore up the morale of his staff, Trump blasted his government's own scientific experts as too negative, even as his handling of the pandemic that has killed more than 220,000 Americans remains a central issue to voters.
"People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots," Trump said of the government's top infectious disease expert. "Every time he goes on television, there's always a bomb. But there's a bigger bomb if you fire him. But Fauci's a disaster."
At a rally in Prescott, Arizona, Trump assailed Biden for pledging to heed the advice of scientific experts, saying dismissively that his rival "wants to listen to Dr. Fauci."
The doctor is both respected and popular, and Trump's rejection of scientific advice on the pandemic has drawn bipartisan condemnation.
At his rally, Trump also ramped up his attacks on the news media, singling out NBC's Kristen Welker, the moderator of the next presidential debate, as well as CNN for aggressively covering a pandemic that is now infecting tens of thousands of Americans every day.
Fauci, in an interview with CBS's 60 Minutes that aired Sunday, said he was not surprised that Trump contracted the virus after he held a series of large events with few face coverings. Fauci also objected to the president's campaign using his words in a campaign ad.
"I was worried that he was going to get sick when I saw him in a completely precarious situation of crowded, no separation between people, and almost nobody wearing a mask," Fauci said of the president.
Trump's comments drew a defense of Fauci from Tennessee GOP Sen. Lamar Alexander, who praised the doctor as one of the nation's "most distinguished public servants."
As Trump turned his flouting of scientific advice into a campaign applause line, Alexander added that if more Americans had heeded Fauci's advice, "we'd have fewer cases of COVID-19, and it would be safer to go back to school and back to work and out to eat."
Biden was off the campaign trail Monday, preparing for Thursday's second and final debate. His campaign praised Fauci while saying that "Trump's reckless and negligent leadership threatens to put more lives at risk."
"Trump's closing message in the final days of the 2020 race is to publicly mock Joe Biden for trusting science and to call Dr. Fauci, the leading public health official on COVID-19, a 'disaster' and other public health officials 'idiots,'" the campaign said. "Trump is mocking Biden for listening to science. Science."