The new coronavirus has decimated the economy, turned hospitals into battlefields, and disrupted the daily lives of every American. But at Trump’s White House, certain symptoms persist: a president who governs as if he were producing and playing on a reality TV show, with a new episode every day and each news cycle his own creation, a successive installment to to conquer.
In the face of a global pandemic, Trump always seems to waver from moment to moment, with his methods and messages every day disconnected – and in some cases contradictory – from those just before. The diagram reveals a commander-in-chief who does not know how to defeat the “silent enemy,” as he labeled it.
Instead, Trump focused on his self-image – claiming credit wherever he believed it, trying to project strength and determination, adjusting scores with critics, bragging about ratings from his press conferences and trying to win news via cable and social media. media wars.
“You have the President of the United States hosting these reality shows,” said David Lapan, a former Trump administration official who currently works at the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Lapan added that it is important for the President to address the public on such a serious subject as the pandemic, but said that Trump should quickly “turn things over to the experts and leave, not make it happen.” awareness of each subject he wants to speak and the worship that seems to be required of all who participate. ”
White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley in an email statement accused Democrats and the media of trying to “destroy” Trump, who he said “stood up to fight head-on this crisis by taking aggressive historic measures to protect the health, wealth and well-being of the American people. ”
Still, confusion arose from the presidential megaphone, with one of the few consistent themes simply Trump himself, starring as villain or savior, according to his political persuasion.
“Trump is a salesperson, and it’s all about the point of sale,” said Stuart Stevens, a longtime Republican agent and frequent critic of Trump. “These are not regular customers and follow-ups. He wants to get the sale – that’s all – he wants to sell your car underlay to you, and that’s not his problem if the car stops rolling. ”
Saturday March 28
For Trump, a morning call on March 28 with Governor Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) Complaining about New Yorkers’ travels to Florida and the spread of the coronavirus has sown a controversial idea: order a quarantine of the New York area. The president was intrigued.
Leaving the White House around lunchtime, Trump told reporters, “It is possible that today we are in our mid-40s – short term, two weeks in New York. “
He followed on Twitter, promising a decision “shortly” on a “QUARANTINE” from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The president simply floated on an idea, but a cycle of news was born. Trump’s public reflections have sown panic and confusion in an already besieged region, and provoked a rapid reaction from state and local authorities.
As night fell, Trump was anxious to get past the controversial headlines of the day and backed off.
“Quarantine will not be necessary,” he said. tweetedadding, “Thank you! “
Sunday March 29
When Trump said he intended to reopen the economy soon – arbitrarily choosing April 12 because he thought it would be “nice” to see the church pews filled for Easter Sunday – he expected to be praised. Instead, his proposal was widely rejected – particularly by public health and medical professionals, who warned that ending social distance so soon would be dangerous and reckless.
On March 29, Trump therefore pivoted.
Appearing at the Rose Garden for an evening press conference, Trump abruptly abandoned his Easter calendar, claiming that he had always been simply “ambitious,” and instead announced an extension of strict federal mitigation guidelines until at less at the end of April.
Joe Lockhart, who was press secretary to the White House under President Bill Clinton, said the sudden change in Trump had caused a whiplash.
“On Sunday, the information cycle he seemed to want to lead was” We put health before the economy “, while three days before it was the opposite,” said Lockhart.
But even when weighing such serious questions, the spirit of Trump was sometimes elsewhere. A few hours before his press conference, he took Twitter to boast high ratings of its coronavirus updates, noting that they were tied with the season finale of “The Bachelor”, an ABC reality hit.
President Trump woke up determined to take ownership of the day. He called his favorite morning show “Fox & Friends” at 8:00 am to make fun and brag in an interview that felt like a campaign rally.
He pooped high approval ratings from New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo (D); House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was considered “a sick puppy”; criticized Germany for having benefited from the NATO alliance; and declaimed its policy with Russia.
At the end of the day, when Trump entered the White House newsroom to deliver an update on the coronavirus, he handed over the presidential desk to a range of business leaders, who attended. alternately congratulated and presented their products.
The quality of the potpourri of Trump’s message to a nation in crisis that day was in stark contrast to Franklin D. Roosevelt, who as president during the Great Depression and World War II offered his assurances with conversations fireside spread nationwide – and he limited them to have maximum impact.
“He only had these fireside conversations every two months, when there was an essential moment for the president to speak,” said historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who wrote Roosevelt’s biographies. and other presidents. “Someone said to him,” Why don’t you go to the radio every night? Your speeches are so effective. “He said,” If my speeches become routine, they will lose their effectiveness. “And he said,” It takes me three or four days to work on a fireside conversation – and I have to run the country, too. ”
Trump finally came on Tuesday to recognize the magnitude of the crisis.
In a press conference that lasted two hours and 11 minutes – at that time, the longest single appearance of his presidency, according to an analysis by Factba.se – the president and his medical experts proposed a dark and somber projection: in the best of cases, and with strict respect for social distancing, between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans will probably die from the coronavirus.
The worst-case scenario was even more horrible: without community-based mitigation, the models presented by the White House predict that 1.5 million to 2.2 million Americans could die.
To avoid this disaster, Trump extended federal guidelines on social distancing by 30 days.
“I want every American to be prepared for the difficult days ahead,” he said, adding, “It will be two very painful weeks – very, very painful. “
Lockhart said Tuesday’s press conference was a concerted effort by the administration to “rewrite history,” after two months when Trump downplayed the threat of the virus. He added that there also seemed to be a political calculation: by revealing specific projected deaths, Trump laid the groundwork for claiming victory before the November elections if the death toll is significantly lower than expected.
“Now he’s trying to position it like,” If you didn’t have a strong leader like me, millions of people would have died, “said Lockhart. “It’s very cynical, but from a political point of view, it could be very effective. “
Trump’s daily viewers had grown accustomed to seeing him surrounded by a coterie of public health officials and medical experts. But on Wednesday, he appeared alongside a phalanx of military brass and other warlords.
They formed the backdrop for Trump’s creation of a new cycle of news. He announced an anti-narcotics operation in the Western Hemisphere, keen to leave the impression that he was in command and control on two fronts at the same time – fighting a pandemic as well as the illegal drug trade.
“We must not let the drug cartels exploit the pandemic to threaten American lives,” said the president.
Trump’s comment has moved from drugs to a range of other topics. Of course, he discussed the latest efforts to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus, but also praised the robustness of the border wall and the reach of its social media platforms.
When asked if the tweet threats against Iran were useful for relations between the two countries, Trump turned the question into one about the power of his online subscribers.
“Did you know I was number one on Facebook? Asked the president. “I mean, I just found out that I’m number one on Facebook. I thought it was very good, whatever that means. “
Trump is, in fact, not close to “number one” on Facebook, either in terms of likes or other common metrics. His predecessor Barack Obama, for example, has 54 million followers, compared to 29 million for Trump.
A lasting story through the pandemic has been Trump’s hot and cold relationships with the governors of the hard-hit states.
At his press conference on Thursday evening, Trump went on to explain how he would see the governors “quoted in a newspaper or see them on a program” being much less complimentary in public than he claimed in private.
“To my face, they’re very nice, but sometimes, I guess, they assume I’m not looking at them or something,” said Trump. “But I look very closely. “
In fact, he had watched MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” when Senator Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) Demanded much faster action from the White House to help distribute medical supplies.
Trump quickly lambasted “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer “on Twitter and blamed New York for being” delayed. “
The two men quarreled all day, culminating in a scathing letter that Trump wrote to Schumer, to which the senator responded on MSNBC later that night, saying he was “appalled” by the president’s leadership.
Even in the midst of the global disaster, he couldn’t help but marvel at the attention the disease itself received.
“C-O-V-I-D-19,” said Trump, stating letter by letter the name of the disease that was ravaging the nation. “You know what it is, right? Become a very famous term – C-O-V-I-D. Covid. “
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had developed new guidelines to attenuate the coronavirus, recommending that all Americans wear face masks, and as with many federal government announcements, Trump chose to reveal it himself.
But he risked diluting the effectiveness of the measure – designed to prevent asymptomatic carriers of the virus from spreading to others – by emphasizing that it was voluntary and by thinking of Friday’s press conference that it would not be seen wearing a mask himself.
Trump pays special attention to his physical appearance – in the rose garden on Monday, when a gust of wind lifted his straw-colored mane, he proudly joked that “it’s mine” – and his vanity, it seemed, could not not bear to wear a mask.
When asked why he objected to covering his nose and mouth as recommended by the CDC, Trump found it difficult to express his hesitation.
“Somehow, sitting in the oval office behind this beautiful Resolute desk – the big Resolute desk – I think wearing a mask to greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens , I do not know. In a way, I don’t see it for myself. ”
So finally, after grabbing another round of news, the president undermined the news by refusing to lead by example.
“I won’t do it personally,” concluded Trump. “It is a recommendation. Okay? “