Politico

Trump tries to claw back control as coronavirus pandemic threatens his reelection


President Donald Trump is moving to repair a damaging media narrative as coronavirus infections spiral back out of control just over 100 days before November’s general election.

Trump, whose poll numbers have suffered as he has been hammered for the administration’s stammering response, is setting in motion a new White House communications effort focused on the pandemic and seeking to shift attention to crime in major American cities.

In a series of tweets Tuesday morning, Trump repeated his claim that the United States is “doing very well” combating the virus compared to “most other countries” — even as spiking caseloads put the U.S. far ahead of other industrialized nations — and touted the “Tremendous progress being made on Vaccines and Therapeutics” to treat the highly infectious disease.

The most notable addition to the president’s preferred social media feed was a black-and-white photo posted Monday afternoon showing him modeling a face mask, a personal mitigation measure Trump had long been reluctant to practice. “There is nobody more Patriotic than me, your favorite President!” he wrote online.

Trump seems poised to reprise those rosy sentiments Tuesday evening, when he is slated to resume his appearances at the White House’s televised coronavirus news conferences after a nearly three-month hiatus.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who is scheduled to hold her own briefing Tuesday morning, said Trump’s future sessions with reporters are “going to be short” affairs taking place “most days,” after which the president will answer questions.

“We have a lot of plans over the next three months,” she told Fox News, previewing “very newsy briefings with a lot of information the American people want to hear.”

This week has also seen a brief détente in the president’s feud with his own health officials, after the White House rebuked CDC guidance for reopening schools and waged a smear campaign against Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, in recent days.

Although Trump did deem the doctor to be “a little bit of an alarmist” during an interview Sunday in which he again downplayed the nature of the pandemic’s threat, Fauci appeared optimistic Tuesday about the White House’s plans to restart its coronavirus briefings. “I think if we do this and we do it right, it will be very informative for the American public,” he told NPR.

But Surgeon General Jerome Adams said it remained unclear how he and other senior members of the administration’s coronavirus task force would factor into Trump’s briefing Tuesday. “They’re still figuring that out. I know that as they resume, we will be there in our different roles,” he told CBS News.

The apparent shift in the administration’s messaging comes as state and local leaders continue to wrestle with record numbers of Covid-19 cases exacerbated by rampant community spread, while Trump’s reelection team reckons with the latest public polling showing him trailing former Vice President Joe Biden less than four months from Election Day.

Amid the downturn in his political fortunes, the president had been increasingly hesitant over the past few months to engage on the subject of slowing the coronavirus, instead fixating almost single-mindedly on the need to reopen the national economy and the country’s places of learning.

The president’s return to daily coronavirus briefings could signal a willingness to more fully address the public health challenges posed by the pandemic. Such a course correction, however, would likely coincide with Trump’s new crusade against incidents of crime in urban centers governed by Democrats.

As an ambiguous mix of forces from the Department of Homeland Security descend upon Portland, Ore., Trump has warned he may deploy more federal agents to stamp out protests and violence in other cities, including Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, New York, Oakland and Philadelphia.

The president’s critics have condemned his threats as part of a broader bid to gin up his political base ahead of November, and Trump himself has explicitly linked the race for the White House to his law enforcement crackdown.

“I’m going to do something, that I can tell you. Because … we’re not going to let this happen in our country,” he told reporters Monday in the Oval Office, adding: “If Biden got in, that would be true for the country. The whole country would go to hell, and we’re not going to let it go to hell.”

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