Trump On Pandemic: ‘The Only Thing’ Administration Has Done Poorly Is Public Relations

HENDERSON, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at Xtreme Manufacturing on September 13, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada. Trump's visit comes after Nevada Republicans blamed De... HENDERSON, NEVADA - SEPTEMBER 13: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign event at Xtreme Manufacturing on September 13, 2020 in Henderson, Nevada. Trump's visit comes after Nevada Republicans blamed Democratic Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak for blocking other events he had planned in the state. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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September 26, 2020 10:52 a.m.
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President Donald Trump on Friday patted himself on the back for his administration’s bungled effort at curbing the coronavirus which has now killed more than 204,000 people in the United States.

“I’d give us an A to an A+,” the President said at a campaign rally in Newport News, Virginia, maintaining that when the first coronavirus cases appeared in the United States his administration “launched the largest national mobilization since WWII.”

“You look at the ventilators — you look at all we’ve done.” Trump said.

The President has repeatedly touted ventilators when he speaks about how he’s handled the pandemic. A recent ProPublica report prompted congressional investigation that in August found “evidence of fraud, waste and abuse” in the government’s acquisition of Philips ventilators. 

Trump insisted on Friday that the White House has worked hard to support governors in securing the equipment they need.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany regarded the grim milestone of 200,000 deaths on Tuesday as a “testament” to the President’s bold leadership amid projections of a potentially much higher death toll.

“We were looking at the prospect of 2 million people potentially perishing from the coronavirus in this country,” McEnany told reporters during a press briefing. “We grieve when even one life is lost — the fact that we have come nowhere near that number is a testament to this president taking immediate action.”

The comments from Trump and the White House broadly, reflect a broader effort by the Trump administration to rewrite history.

Last month, during the Republican National Convention, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, described the COVID-19 pandemic in the past tense.

Earlier this month, Trump suggested that the nation had “rounded the final turn” of the health crisis. Meanwhile, top health experts like the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases director, Dr. Anthony Fauci have countered those claims, warning in recent weeks, that COVID-19 data was “disturbing” and that Americans needed to “hunker down” in the colder months amid new cases that were plateauing at an unsatisfactorily high rate.

While giving himself high marks, President Trump has repeatedly sought to undermine the efforts of health officials in his own administration. 

On Wednesday, President Trump intensified pressure to politicize the vaccine by suggesting that he wouldn’t approve stricter FDA guidelines for a coronavirus vaccine

“That has to be approved by the White House,” Trump said of the FDA standards when addressing reporters at a White House briefing. “That sounds like a political move.”

The following day, Trump offered a vague and unsupported theory suggesting that unnamed officials were conspiring to slow the development of a COVID-19 vaccine, with the explicit intention of hurting his reelection bid.

“The only thing we did badly on was public relations, because we were working so hard,” Trump insisted on Friday to a tightly packed crowd — a majority in attendance did not wear masks. 

“We’ve done a hell of a job,” the President said, repeating his remarks about botched optics by saying, “except on public relations and that’s explaining it to people.”

But optics have been perhaps the only concern of a president who some have accused of being fixated on his media presence.

A former top aide to Vice President Mike Pence, Olivia Troye, who was involved in the White House’s task force on the coronavirus before leaving the administration in August, told NBC News earlier this week that the President was frequently more concerned about his “public image” than he was with protecting Americans.

“He was really focused on public image, messaging,” Troye said, adding that for Trump, it was more about his “personal agenda” than the agenda identified by the task force which was “how are we going to save and protect Americans.”

Key Coronavirus Crisis Links

TPM’s COVID-19 hub.
Josh Marshall’s Twitter List of Trusted Experts (Epidemiologists, Researchers, Clinicians, Journalists, Government Agencies) providing reliable real-time information on the COVID-19 Crisis.
COVID-19 Tracking Project (updated data on testing and infections in the U.S.).
Johns Hopkins Global COVID-19 Survey (most up to date numbers globally and for countries around the world).
Worldometers.info (extensive source of information and data visualizations on COVID-19 Crisis — discussion of data here).
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