President Donald Trump spent the weekend vacillating between casting himself as an empathetic leader and wartime president as the coronavirus spreads through the United States.
But above all, he still wants credit. Credit for cutting off travel from China. Credit for giving up money to run to run for office. Credit for uniting the nation.
During three collective hours of briefings on Saturday and Sunday, the president extolled his administration’s “extraordinary mobilization in our war against the virus,” dropped superlatives while describing efforts to offset testing shortages and move a major economic stimulus bill on Capitol Hill and trumpeted a national emergency he declared over a week ago.
“There’s never been anything like we’re doing on the Hill right now,” he told reporters in one of many laudatory passages.
Even as he repeatedly offered comfort and hope to a nervous American public — “no American is alone as long as we’re united,” he said — Trump would fall back into familiar tropes from his campaign. He attacked the press. He decried the sacrifices that he made as a rich person in choosing to run for office.
The two weekend briefings offered a window into the challenges that lie ahead for Trump, as he tries to appease the country and appear in control while also keeping in check his personal grievances. The tone Trump strikes will be critical to whether he is reelected, as the coronavirus crisis is quickly becoming the biggest challenge of the president’s three-and-a-half years in office. His daily briefings have essentially become stand-ins for his campaign rallies that are on hiatus until the coronavirus recedes — his way to communicate with the public and rally his base.
While the public’s approval of his handling of the virus jumped this past week, the ongoing challenges with testing and medical equipment — not to the mention virtual shutdown of the U.S. economy — pose problems that will be playing out for weeks, if not months.