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Business as usual for Trump as coronavirus spreads

Business as usual for Trump as coronavirus spreads

by BRETT SAMUELS | The Hill  |  Published on March 10, 2020

Trump spent the weekend in Florida, where he attended fundraisers, hosted the Brazilian president, dropped in on a birthday party for campaign official Kimberly Guilfoyle and golfed with members of the Washington Nationals.

“The fact that he’s still out there holding fundraisers and doing political events is really mind-boggling,” said Alex Conant, a GOP strategist who worked on Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) 2016 presidential campaign. “His political opponents will use all these photo-ops against him.”

With financial markets in free fall on Monday, Trump was on Twitter seeking to sow discord in the Democratic presidential primary, leveling unspecified allegations of corruption at former President Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden and suggesting that plummeting stocks were unrelated to the coronavirus.

Trump is expected to speak next weekend at the Republican Jewish Coalition meeting in Las Vegas, and he says future campaign rallies are not off the table, even as administration officials and health experts urge those most susceptible to avoid such large gatherings.

“He plans on still holding rallies,” Grisham said Monday on Fox News. “And I’ll tell you what, with our president — this man who doesn’t sleep and who I have seen work 15, 16 hours a day, every day — I have no problem thinking that he’s going to be just fine and just healthy.”

The president is an admitted germaphobe, and he has quipped in recent days about the coronavirus leading to the end of shaking hands, a gesture of greeting he says he forced himself to embrace when he got into politics.

But the coronavirus is becoming more widespread and its proximity more immediate.

At least one person who attended the Conservative Political Action Conference where Trump spoke late last month has tested positive for the virus, prompting multiple lawmakers in attendance to go into self-imposed quarantine.

The District of Columbia and nearby counties in Virginia and Maryland have all confirmed their first known cases of the virus in recent days.

Trump, fixated on projecting calm, has been unbothered. His strategy for publicly containing the fallout of the virus has largely been to try and minimize it.

“I’m not concerned at all. No, I’m not,” he told reporters on Saturday at Mar-a-Lago. “No, we’ve done a great job.”

Over the course of a couple hours on Monday morning, he blamed the news media and Democrats for inflaming “the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant”; praised Pence and the coronavirus task force; touted the importance of his decision to curb travel from certain affected areas; and suggested the coronavirus paled in comparison to the common flu, a disease experts have stressed is not analogous to the current outbreak.

“Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on,” Trump tweeted. “At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

Trump’s running commentary on the virus has at times made it difficult for Pence, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, NIH chief Anthony Fauci and other officials to deliver a consistent message on the virus. They have had to defend or explain away comments Trump has made while simultaneously deflecting praise toward the president.

Health experts and former government officials expressed approval for how Pence, Fauci and other leaders of the coronavirus response team have handled themselves and the outbreak.

But Trump’s track record of making false statements and handling of past crises have severely undercut his ability to lead the country through the latest one, argued Tom Kolditz, a scholar at Rice University and former leader of the U.S. Military Academy’s Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership.

“He’s just not suited for crisis leadership,” Kolditz said. “He’s too self-centered, he’s too narcissistic, and while people can kind of get behind that in more ordinary times, it scares people to death in a crisis.”

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