The Memo: Trump risks new backlash with COVID bravado
President Trump is in a perilous political spot even after his discharge from the hospital on Monday evening.
Many of the difficulties are of Trump’s own making.
The president is always eager to portray himself as strong and vigorous — something that he has sought to push even harder since he acknowledged in the early hours of Friday that he had tested positive for COVID-19.
He sparked fresh controversy on Monday evening by removing his mask as he returned to the White House.
If opinion hardens that he is recklessly endangering the health of those who come into contact with him, it could be a serious problem.
There are already signs that the president is treading on treacherous ground.
A new CNN poll released Monday found large swaths of the country neither believing the White House’s messaging on the president’s health nor judging him to have acted responsibly in relation to others.
The poll found that a startling 69 percent of adults believed either “nothing at all” or “just some” of what they heard from the White House about the president’s health. In addition, 63 percent of adults believed Trump had acted irresponsibly in relation to the risk of infection for people who have been around him recently.
Those findings come against a backdrop where the American public has tended to disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic overall.
In an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday, 52 percent thought Trump’s Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, would do better in dealing with the coronavirus, whereas only 35 percent said Trump would be the better choice.
The president is going full-steam ahead with his usual approach, however. He tweeted on Monday afternoon that he was “feeling really good” and urged people, “Don’t be afraid of Covid. Don’t let it dominate your life.”
Those sentiments ran contrary to the advice of public health officials, who have been striving throughout the crisis to convince the public of its gravity. The coronavirus had claimed the lives of around 210,000 people in the United States as of Monday.
Trump, however, had sought to put on a brave face even while hospitalized. The White House released photos both Saturday and Sunday of the president working from his suite at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., just outside Washington.
More controversially, the president had emerged on Sunday for a brief car ride to wave at supporters who had come to the hospital. The move sparked uproar, including on social media, as Trump was accused of putting the health of his driver and the Secret Service agents who protect him at risk.
The president’s physician, Sean Conley, said during a briefing with reporters on Monday that those people had appropriate personal protective equipment, however.
Public disquiet over Trump’s health, and his actions, is only deepened by a lack of clarity.
Conley declined once again on Monday to say when the president had last tested negative for COVID-19. He has also refused to answer questions about whether Trump’s lungs have been damaged by the virus.
Independent health experts say the date of the negative test is particularly important because it would enable a better assessment of where Trump stands in relation to the virus’s progress. There is evidence, for example, that some COVID-19 patients suffer setbacks around five to seven days after first becoming symptomatic, while the 10-day mark has also proven problematic.
Questions also remain about protocols at the White House and elsewhere in the president’s vicinity, given the number of people who have become infected.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced Monday that she had tested positive for the coronavirus. So too have other high-profile figures such as former aide Kellyanne Conway, campaign manager Bill Stepien and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). Three Republican senators — Sens. Mike Lee (Utah), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.) — have all tested positive.
Allies of the president have pushed back against the media amid Trump’s health crisis.
A Republican National Committee spokesman, Steve Guest, emailed reporters Monday afternoon, with the subject line, “President Trump’s health improves, media melts down.” Guest contended that Trump was “a fighter” and that “the media and left-wing talking heads hate this.”
Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) tweeted an old wrestling video featuring Trump, adding “COVID stood no chance” against the president.
That kind of bragging might appeal to the president’s base. It is more questionable how it will land with a broader public, given the death toll from the pandemic.
The current brave face from Trump World relies heavily on the president suffering no health setbacks.
If his condition were to deteriorate, and a second spell of hospitalization were required, a whole new raft of questions would have to be answered.
Meanwhile, Trump’s ideological opponents are watching for missteps.
“If he is acting frivolously with this virus, as he has done all along, this is dangerous for the American people,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told MSNBC’s Craig Melvin on Monday.
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.