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Trump's temperament has become his own worst enemy

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Image: Donald Trump, Joe Biden
President Donald Trump and Joe Biden during the first presidential debate on Sept. 29, 2020 in Cleveland.Julio Cortez / AP

WASHINGTON — Of all the rough numbers for President Trump in the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, these might have been the roughest: The current president trails his opponent by 32 points (!!!) on who has the right presidential temperament.

Fifty-eight percent of voters say Joe Biden has the better temperament, according to the poll, while just 26 percent pick Trump.

It’s hard to overstate the role that temperament has played in the past week.

Think of the unruly and insult-filled debate last Tuesday (“arrogant,” “bully,” “self-centered” were some of the one-word responses about Trump from a post-debate focus group conducted for NBC News).

Or the mostly mask-less and hardly socially-distant White House ceremony — plus indoor activities — for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett on Sept. 26 (with the news that several of the attendees now have the coronavirus).

To top it off, Trump released a video to say he’s learned a lot about COVID-19 after being infected, and then he hopped in a hermetically sealed SUV to wave to supporters (thereby putting Secret Service agents riding along with him at risk).

“Trump had said he was bored in the hospital, advisers said,” the Washington Post reports. “He wanted to show strength after his chief of staff offered a grimmer assessment of his health than doctors, according to campaign and White House officials.”


The importance of presidential temperament is one thing when the unemployment rate is 3.5 percent, when there is no war and when there is no national crisis.

But it’s another thing when the unemployment rate is at 7.9 percent, when 210,000 Americans have died from a pandemic and when there isn’t clarity about the state of the president’s health.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

7,453,899: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 136,549 more than Friday morning.)

210,955: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far. (That’s 1,860 more than Friday morning.)

107.87 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

11: The number of positive cases linked so far to debate preparations in Cleveland.

206: The number of people who attended Thursday’s Bedminster fundraiser for Trump — and are now being sought for contact tracing by New Jersey officials.

7: The number of GOP-held Senate seats that are now viewed as competitive.

2020 Vision: Carolina in my mind

Talk about a crazy — and potentially upending — Friday in North Carolina’s uber-competitive Senate race.

First, we learned that incumbent Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., tested positive for the coronavirus — after attending that Amy Coney Barrett event at the White House.

And then just hours later came Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham’s confirmation that he sent sexual text messages to a woman who’s not his wife.

It will be interesting to see what the poll numbers show after Friday’s big news for both candidates.

On the campaign trail today

Joe Biden stumps in Miami this afternoon before participating in a town hall with NBC’s Lester Holt that airs at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Full speed ahead

The Trump campaign is moving full speed ahead, despite the president’s continued hospitalization for Covid-19.

On Sunday, members of the campaign confirmed that Vice President Pence will be hitting the campaign trail in the president’s absence. Here’s what Trump campaign senior adviser told one of us yesterday:

Miller: "Vice President Pence, following the debate for the vice-presidential candidates on Wednesday, he'll be hitting the trail, be in Arizona, probably be in Nevada. He'll be back here in D.C. And he's going to have a very full, aggressive schedule, as will the first family, Don, Eric, Ivanka. And then we have a number of our supporters, our coalitions, Black Voices for Trump, Latinos for Trump, Women for Trump. The whole Operation MAGA will be deploying everyone."

Chuck Todd: "So you have no concerns ..."

Miller: "... the vice president and his — I have no concerns at all."

As for the vice-presidential debate on Wednesday, Pence and Kamala Harris will debate, as planned, but with 12 feet in between them. The original plan had them with just seven feet between their seats.

Ad Watch from Ben Kamisar

Today’s Ad Watch heads to Kentucky, by way of Ohio, where what’s good for one Democrat isn’t always good for others.

As the Huffington Post reported on Friday, Kentucky Democrat Amy McGrath (who is hoping to dethrone Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) is running ads aimed at winning split-ticket Trump voters.

“I’m voting for President Trump again, but I cannot vote for Mitch McConnell,” a man says in a recent McGrath ad. “President Trump wants to drain the swamp, let’s start with Mitch McConnell.”

Trying to thread the needle on Trump isn’t a new strategy for McGrath, but it’s an interesting one in how it doesn’t necessarily jibe with that of other Democrats.

Because parts of Kentucky are in the Cincinnati, Ohio media market, McGrath’s pro-Trump ad had been airing in Ohio, a swing states the latest polls show Joe Biden is competitive in. The McGrath camp told HuffPo the spot stopped airing Thursday in that area, but it’s an interesting glimpse into the complexities of the ad-buy game.

The Lid: Upended, again

Don’t miss the pod from Friday, when we looked at how the president getting the coronavirus almost guarantees that the virus will be a dominant story between now and Election Day.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Trump’s Sunday drive-by visit to supporters outside Walter Reed has prompted a torrent of criticism.

Biden tested negative for the coronavirus Sunday for the third time since the debate.

Trump campaign spokesman Jason Miller is defending Trump’s decision to go to a fundraiser in Bedminster last Thursday.

The stakes are suddenly much higher — and different — for Wednesday’s VP debate.

What does it mean that Trump has added steroids to his medical treatment?

The Supreme Court’s new term begins today, with health care and potentially the election on the docket.

Mark Meadows is coming under new scrutiny for a lack of guidance to White House staff.

Senate Republicans already have no room for error when it comes to confirming Amy Coney Barrett before Election Day. Positive coronavirus cases don’t help.

Are Texas laws keeping Latinos away from ballot boxes?