Analysis: As deaths mount, Trump tries to convince Americans it’s safe to inch back to normal
WASHINGTON — In a week when the novel coronavirus ravaged new communities across the country and the number of dead soared past 78,000, President Donald Trump and his advisers shifted from hour-by-hour crisis management to what they characterize as a long-term strategy aimed at reviving the decimated economy and preparing for additional outbreaks this fall.
But in doing so, the administration is effectively bowing to — and asking Americans to accept — a devastating proposition: that a steady, daily accumulation of lonely deaths is the grim cost of reopening the nation.
Inside the West Wing, some officials talk about the federal government’s mitigation mission as largely accomplished because they believe the nation’s hospitals are now equipped to meet anticipated demand — even as health officials warn the number of coronavirus cases could increase considerably in May and June as more states and localities loosen restrictions, and some mitigation efforts are still recommended as states begin to reopen.
The administration is struggling to expand the scale of testing to what experts say is necessary to reopen businesses safely, and officials have not announced any national plan for contact tracing. Trump and some of his advisers are prioritizing the psychology of the pandemic as much as, if not more than, plans to combat the virus, some aides and outside advisers said — striving to instill confidence that people can comfortably return to daily life despite the rising death toll.
On Friday, as the unemployment rate reached a historically high 14.7%, Trump urged Americans to think of this period as a “transition to greatness,” adding during a meeting with Republican members of Congress: “We’re going to do something very fast, and we’re going to have a phenomenal year next year.” The president predicted the virus eventually would disappear even without a vaccine — a prediction at odds with his own science officials.
A White House spokesman defended the status of testing by pointing to comments in mid-April by two of the medical professionals on the task force, Anthony Fauci and Adm. Brett Giroir, saying there have been enough tests to safely reopen the country.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also backed the administration’s response, saying, “President Trump is committed to a data-driven approach to safely reopening the country. His steadfast leadership has saved American lives, and the American people recognize his leadership.”
Some of Trump’s advisers described the president as glum and shellshocked by his declining popularity. In private conversations, he has struggled to process how his fortunes suddenly changed from believing he was on a glide path to reelection to realizing that he is losing to the likely Democratic nominee, former vice president Joe Biden, in virtually every poll, including his own campaign’s internal surveys, advisers said. He also has been fretting about the possibility that a bad outbreak of the virus this fall could damage his standing in the November election, said the advisers, who along with other aides and allies requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.
The president is also eager to resume political travel in June, including holding his signature rallies by the end of the summer in areas where there are few cases, advisers said. Trump’s political team has begun discussions about organizing a high-dollar, in-person fundraiser next month, as well as preliminary planning about staging rallies and what sort of screenings might be necessary, according to Republican National Committee officials and outsider advisers. One option being considered is holding rallies outdoors, rather than in enclosed arenas, a senior administration official said.