Trump’s play is to play down virus
In words and deed, minimizes threat even as cases rise
WASHINGTON — Gone are the dayswhenPresident Donald Trump held forth daily at the White House podium flanked by members of his coronavirus task force. And the days when Vice President Mike Pence andother task force officials would head to Trump’s office to brief him immediately after their meetings.
The White House won’t say when Trump last met with the task force.
In the week since he emerged from coronavirus isolation, Trump has demonstrated new determination to minimize the threat of the virus that has killed almost 219,000 Americans.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is near. We are rounding the turn,” Trump told supporters Friday at an event in Fort Myers, Florida, one of many moments during aweek of campaigning when the president tried to play down the virus threat. “Don’t listen to the cynics and angry partisans and pessimists.”
In word and action, he is pushing an optimistic outlook even as coronavirus infections are spiking in Europe and public health officials are raising alarm that the infection rate in the U.S. is climbing toward a new peak.
In the past week he has spread misinformation about the virus, undercut the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and kept up his practice of
shunning mask use. The effort to diminish the virus has gone into overdrive as Democrats try to frame the race for the WhiteHouse as a referendum on Trump’s handling of the worst U.S. public health crisis in over a century.
The nation averaged more than 50,000 new coronavirus cases per day over the past week.
Olivia Troye, a former aide to the task force who has emerged as a harsh Trumpcritic, says that early in the crisis Trump was “asking the right questions”
when doctors spoke to him about their concerns that the country could face a surge of cases in the fall and winter.
“That’s why it so completely reckless of him, after having COVID himself, to turn around this week and double down on taking the mask off and parading around like it’s not a necessary thing, calling himself immune,” she said. “He’s doubling downon misinformation that has been coming out of his mouth for the entire tenure of this pandemic.”
At his NBC News town hall Thursday night, Trump was asked whether he should have known better than to announce his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court with a Rose Garden ceremony where few guests wore masks and social distancingwas nonexistent.
He responded by incorrectly citing a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study to falsely suggest that mask wearing doesn’t mitigate the spread of the virus. The study did not say that.
Trump also has been guarded in releasing information about his health and wouldn’t say whether he had tested negative on the day of his first debate with Democrat Joe Biden, two days prior to his positive diagnosis, allowing only, “Possibly I did, possibly I didn’t.”
After first lady Melania Trump revealed last week that their son, Barron, had tested positive for the illness, Trump used his child’s health scare and recovery to try to make the case that the virus isnobig deal for young people.
“It happens. People have it, andit goes,” Trumpsaid at a rally in Iowa. “Get the kids back to school.”
While campaigning, Trump and his team often go without masks, a return to the status quo for a president who earlier in the crisis suggested that some people wore masks just to signal their disapproval of him.
In one striking moment last week, senior adviser Hope Hicks returned to campaigning with Trump more than two weeks after she tested positive for the virus. Hicks, the president and other aides climbed aboardMarine Onewearing no masks.
Trump defends his decision togomasklessby saying that doctors tell him he isn’t shedding virus anymore and he remains “immune” for at least four months.
Public health experts say that by refusing to wear masks, Trumpandhis advisers are missing an opportunity to model behavior that is essential to keep the rest of America safe.
Dan Eberhart, a prominent Republican donor and Trump supporter, said the president’s rhetoric since leaving the hospital isn’t easing jitters among conservative contributors.
Several GOP senators in tough races are having difficulty keeping up with an avalanche of Democratic campaign contributions that’s being driven in part by liberal anger over the president’s handling of the pandemic, Eberhart said.
“Keeping up the veneer that everything is fine may soothe the president’s ego, but it isn’t motivating donors,” Eberhart added.
Senior adviser Hope Hicks, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, walks with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Thursday in Maryland.