Three current news items concern a Republican operative named Michael Caputo whom Donald Trump installed in April as his personal enforcer at the Department of Health and Human Services (Caputo is, ostensibly, the department’s assistant secretary of public affairs). The first is that the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis announced that it will be investigating Caputo’s alleged attempts, originally reported by Politico, to edit and even retroactively modify Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports on the pandemic to make them more flattering to Trump. The second is that Caputo has deleted his Twitter account after celebrating the tear-gassing of protesters in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and calling someone with four followers a “douchebag.”
The third Caputo story is, somehow, much more dramatic: In a Sunday Facebook Live appearance, the HHS official alleged that there is a seditious “resistance unit” within the CDC that is attempting to sustain the pandemic until after the presidential election—and said that he believes this unit is plotting to murder him. (Said Caputo: “They’re going to have to kill me, and unfortunately, I think that’s where this is going.”) In addition to this targeted assassination, Caputo asserted that left-wing activists are conducting “drills” across the country to prepare to kill Trump supporters in the event that Joe Biden does not win the election.
Caputo also confirmed a report that he has been put in charge of an imminent $250 million coronavirus public-information campaign that, conveniently for the president, plans to promote a message of “hope” regarding the pandemic’s course.
Very normal, to delegate an enormous amount of control over a critical public-safety issue to a person such as this!
On Sunday, meanwhile, Trump held an indoor rally in Henderson, Nevada; here is his campaign’s justification for not holding the event outdoors:
Casinos are indeed open in Nevada, but they remain under capacity restrictions and mask requirements; you can see the photo above for a sense of the physical distancing and mask rules the campaign enforced at its own event. The last time Trump held a rally indoors, Herman Cain, a former Republican presidential candidate who attended it, fell ill with COVID-19 and died shortly thereafter.
Since the Republican National Convention, Trump’s campaign has enjoyed its best stretch of polling since May. But “best” in this context means that Trump went from trailing Joe Biden by 9-ish points nationally to trailing him by 7-plus points nationally, and Monday’s news seems likely to reorient the national news cycle around an issue on which the president does not have an advantage. Here, for example, are the results of an ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday:
A majority of Americans (68%) do not trust what Trump says about the coronavirus pandemic. … Overall approval of Trump’s handling of the pandemic is unchanged, with just over a third (35%) approving.
ABC/Ipsos’ questions did not specifically address whether voters would approve of Trump getting people killed with indoor rallies or delegating virus-related authority to a weird hatchet man who appears to be having mental problems, but it is probably safe to say these developments will not help his campaign. If Caputo is killed by a secret-scientist-assassin murder cabal, however, one could see it creating a kind of “sympathy vote” effect for the incumbent. Jury’s still out!
For more of Slate’s news coverage, subscribe to What Next on Apple Podcasts or listen below.