2020-07-02 12:35:41 UTC
Dear Leader's refusal to set an example by wearing a face covering,
despite growing evidence that it may be one of the most effective ways to
slow America's increasingly disastrous coronavirus pandemic, was always a
Now, as the clinical and electoral damage builds from a resurgent virus
that is close to racing out of control after another record day for new
cases on Wednesday, the President may be edging, very slowly, toward a
By going barefaced when everyone around him masked up, Trump created a
false impression that the worst was behind us, that normality was about to
come roaring back. He cemented his bond with grassroots supporters who see
mask-wearing mandates as a sign of servitude to government and elites and
an impediment to their rights.
Yet Trump's position has left him increasingly isolated even from the
Republican leaders who have facilitated his unchained presidency, as
public health officials and local and state leaders of all political
stripes plead with Americans to cover up in public so the country can heal
Trump's aides debate a new virus approach as President claims it will
The mask movement now seems unstoppable, partly due to warnings like the
one this week by the government's top infectious disease specialist, Dr.
Anthony Fauci, who said new US coronavirus infections could soon hit
100,000 a day.
Fauci said the aggressive state openings that Trump championed have
backfired as people without masks celebrated in bars and crowds.
"It's a violation of the principles of what we're trying to do, and that
is the social distancing, the wearing of masks," Fauci told NPR on
The reality suggested by such warnings has helped to change the debate on
Far from becoming a mark of strength and defiance, Trump's isolated
crusade against masks-- he dubbed himself a "LONE WARRIOR" in a recent
tweet, is now emblematic of his denial of a fast-worsening national
disaster, a botched federal government response and his refusal to take
even the most basic steps to save American lives.
On Wednesday, Trump offered the first signs that he understands the box he
has built for himself on masks, which medical experts say can contain
droplets that could infect people and surfaces and facilitate the spread
of the coronavirus.
The President claimed in an interview with Fox Business that he was "all
for masks" and that he had worn them in situations where social distancing
was not possible in small groups.
But for the last two months, Trump has trashed mask wearing, undermining
his own government's advice. He suggested to the Wall Street Journal that
people wore masks to show they disapprove of him. He warned he won't give
the press the "pleasure" of seeing his face covered in public. He's toured
the country barefaced and flouted social distancing recommendations. And
he even said he couldn't wear a mask when he's meeting "presidents, prime
ministers, dictators, kings, queens."
"I don't know, somehow, I don't see it for myself," the President said
back in April.
Trump's baby steps on masks
Wednesday's tiny movement from his entrenched position may be all that he
can manage for now -- especially as his opponent in November, Democrat Joe
Biden, has said he would mandate mask wearing nationally if he is elected.
But the issue is not whether Trump has worn a mask in private. The sight
of the President leading the way with a face mask would be a potent signal
to his millions of devoted supporters -- especially those in conservative
Southern states where mask wearing is frowned upon and the virus is
getting worse, fast.
So far, Trump, who has often balked at taking risks with his base support
-- a choice that all presidents face sooner or later -- has not taken the
plunge. That it has taken him so long means that if he does eventually
walk out of Air Force One in a mask he will cause an uproar and he will be
likely denied any political benefit such a step could have won him
It is not at all surprising that the President has become a standout on
the question of wearing a mask. The more his political position has
weakened ahead of the election, the more he has adopted stances -- on
issues like the virus, race and foreign policy -- that appear to appeal to
his most devoted supporters.
Trump's mask apostasy is an act of rebellion against the establishment
figures and scientists and professional officials of the government with
which he has been waging an internal war ever since he took his office.
It's a natural fit for a lifelong outsider who is personally and
politically compelled to break the rules.
The President's slight softening of position Wednesday on wearing a mask
came after many of his political allies implicitly repudiated his stance,
stressing repeatedly that wearing a mask was not a political act but a
gesture of humanity.
"We must have no stigma, none, about wearing masks," Senate Majority
Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said on Tuesday. In hard-
hit Texas over the weekend, Vice President Mike Pence -- who has himself
spent weeks undermining government messaging on the issue and is loath to
get crossways with his boss -- backed wearing a mask. Pence is still,
however, not going all in -- typically saying that mask wearing should be
done where it is "indicated" by local authorities.
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Even the President's campaign manager, Brad Parscale, modeled a Trump-
Pence mask at a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last month, suggesting as much
as anything else a massive marketing opportunity the brander-in-chief may
Some Republicans have been trying to walk back earlier squeamishness about
a step that runs counter to conservative talk show dogma by finding ways
to make mask wearing more politically palatable. House Minority Leader
Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican who's a strong Trump ally,
suggested that with Independence Day approaching, Americans should show
their patriotism with red, white and blue face coverings. Sen. Lamar
Alexander, a Tennessee Republican, has been resplendent in a plaid mask
that recalls the red and black shirt he wore when he hiked across his
state and was elected governor decades ago.
Trump still in denial
Trump's apparent shift on mask wearing probably does not signal a
corresponding change in his denial about the worsening crisis and refusal
to provide strong presidential leadership.
In the same Fox Business interview, he claimed that "we did it all right"
on coronavirus, a pandemic that he initially ignored, then mismanaged and
politicized, and finally went back to ignoring even with more than 127,000
Americans now dead.
"We did a great job. We're credited with doing a great job," he said,
before returning his typical fantasy-based predictions about the virus.
"We're headed back in a very strong fashion. ... And I think we're going
to be very good with the coronavirus. I think that at some point that's
going to sort of just disappear. I hope," Trump said.
The white-collar revolt against Trump is peaking
The white-collar revolt against Trump is peaking
If the President has not had an epiphany about the worsening situation,
which has seen nearly half the states slow or pause their reopening plans,
what could be motivating him?
If record new infection rates, filling hospitals and an average of 1,000
American deaths a day can't get him to take the pandemic seriously,
there's one thing that still might: its disastrous impact on his
A divide is emerging inside Trump's inner circle over whether the
President should publicly turn his attention to the virus he has been
ignoring for days or continue to open the economy, sources familiar with
the matter told CNN's Jim Acosta, Jeremy Diamond and Kevin Liptak.
Several of Trump's top aides, including chief of staff Mark Meadows and
son-in-law Jared Kushner, have begun to worry about the President's
reelection chances and have urged a focus on the economy. But other
advisers believe he has suffered severe damage amid the pandemic.
"There is a fair amount of concern," one adviser said, describing the
President as "frustrated" by recent polling indicating Biden could win the
November election by a wide margin.