With Trump Sidelined, His Campaign Promises MAGA as Usual 1

The Trump campaign is not changing its advertising or messaging, even with the candidate in the hospital. The political operation is not bereft of leaders; the campaign manager is still helping run things from afar after testing positive for the virus. Advisers are not showing any evidence of worry, despite public polls showing President Trump still behind in key states he won in 2016.

On the first weekend of the new Trump political reality, the overarching signals were about continuity and resolve, even though the landscape was one of change: rallies canceled in Wisconsin, fund-raising reworked without the incumbent candidate and campaign operations adjusting on the fly.

At 4 p.m. on Saturday, Vice President Mike Pence held a call with the Trump-Pence re-election staff nationwide, trying to rally the troops and lay out the plans for the coming weeks.

Despite the almost unthinkable circumstances for a campaign whose fund-raising, events and political pitches have all been driven by the president himself, Mr. Pence tried to signal that the campaign was trying to proceed as if little has changed.

“‘Make America Great Again’ isn’t just a slogan; it’s our mission,” Mr. Pence said on the call.

Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist, said the campaign’s only option was to plow forward.

“The leader of the campaign may be off the field for now,” he said. “But people are voting right now. The blocking and tackling of knocking doors, making phone calls and getting people to the polls must continue. They can’t worry about what they can’t control and must work relentlessly at what they can.”

To compensate for Mr. Trump’s absence, the campaign is trying to deploy as many Trump family members, who are popular with the president’s supporters, as is possible while the president is off the trail.

Justin Clark, the deputy campaign manager, is filling in at the headquarters in Virginia for the campaign manager, Bill Stepien. But Mr. Stepien is working remotely from home, officials said, and telling other staff members that he feels fine. He participated on the call with staff members across the country on Saturday. (Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a top political adviser, has not needed to play a greater role in the candidate’s absence.)

The campaign hopes to be able to tell a story of what one adviser described as “resolve,” with the president — and several top aides — overcoming a virus that Mr. Trump has for months played down.

In their discussions with supporters on Saturday, campaign officials and Mr. Trump’s son Eric and daughter-in-law Lara maintained that the president was in good shape and that the news coverage of his condition was overblown.

“The mainstream media makes their money off of having shock and awe,” Lara Trump told supporters on a 5 p.m. call, which a Times reporter was able to listen to. “Please, when you see these reports, do not get upset.”

She added that the president was “going to come out on top” and beat the virus “to a pulp” and that he would then “very handily beat Joe Biden to a pulp on Nov. 3.”

Eric Trump described his father as energetic and said they had spoken at length by phone, with the president at one point telling an aide to get Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, on the phone to discuss a potential stimulus package.

Sounding frustrated by news stories discussing the possibility of a transfer of power if the president’s condition worsens, Eric Trump said of former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., “Biden wishes he had 1/100th of the aptitude my father has at this very moment.”

On the same call, Mr. Stepien pushed back at reporting indicating that polls showed Mr. Biden with a lead. Instead, he characterized the polls as “all over the map.” He added: “It’s really hard to figure out exactly where this race stands.”

In an attempt to keep supporters energized and engaged, the campaign is billing its next phase as “Operation MAGA,” a mix of virtual events leading up to Wednesday’s scheduled vice-presidential debate between Mr. Pence and Senator Kamala Harris and then a series of campaign events featuring Mr. Pence.

Those events will include a rally in Peoria, Ariz., the day after the debate. The campaign’s bus tours, meanwhile, were on the road on Saturday, with a stop in Boone County, Iowa, where Gov. Kim Reynolds and Matt Whitaker, the former acting attorney general in Mr. Trump’s administration, held indoor and outdoor events. A Trump campaign aide, Marc Lotter, shared pictures of supporters gathered indoors to see them, many without masks.

Mr. Biden’s team announced on Friday that it would cease negative advertising. Around 10:30 p.m. that night, some of his negative ads about Mr. Trump were still live on Facebook, raising questions among Republicans about whether the spots were actually coming down. A spokesman for Facebook, Andy Stone, said it was the result of a “lag” that sometimes occurs when ads are no longer live.

By contrast, the Trump campaign is not ceasing advertising. And so far there are no plans to change its approach to messaging, campaign officials said.

Republican and Democratic internal polling since the debate between Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump has showed Mr. Trump losing ground against the Democratic challenger following an aggressive performance during which the president repeatedly interrupted Mr. Biden and talked over him, ignoring the moderator.

An official with one Democratic group, who requested anonymity to discuss internal surveys, said that the group’s polling showed that voters wanted the president to recover and that they felt sympathy for him but that so far, that wasn’t translating into the kind of political advantage that Boris Johnson, the British prime minister, experienced when he fell ill with coronavirus. The official said that voters still disapproved of Mr. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and didn’t feel that the White House had been forthcoming about his health.

Despite the criticisms of large-scale events, the Trump campaign plans to move on with them. On Saturday, for instance, a Trump ally held a large rally supporting the president on Staten Island in New York.

“There is zero margin for error here,” Mr. Gorman said. “We’re a month out. Everyone needs to wear a mask, social-distance and take it seriously. Speaking from a purely cynical perspective, shouldn’t Republicans want their voters to be healthy enough to get to the polls?”