Two weeks since leaving a hospital after being injected with experimental medications, Trump is seeking to regain a carefully cultivated persona of the businessman-turned-politician who can travel more than anyone, work (or tweet) at all hours and deliver magnificent rally speeches for more than 90 minutes on his feet.
It’s an image of vitality and stamina Trump has developed throughout his real estate career, his reality show and his presidency, suddenly upended by his Covid-19 test in the final month of the 2020 race. Now, in the middle of a once-in-a-century pandemic and searing slowdown, Trump is closing out his campaign with this notion of fighting, dominance and aggression.
“He sees his ability to make calls late at night, function on little sleep and work no matter where he is as part of his appeal,” said one White House official. Covid “threatened to change that projected image.”
“Portraying weakness or vulnerability is not a comfortable spot for him,” the official added. “He thinks his supporters like seeing him as a fighter.”
Trump has long observed his own description of his health as an extension of his political brand, a way to express contrast with Republican rivals and now with Democratic nominee Joe Biden, according to interviews with eight current and senior former administration officials. It’s one reason he and his team have been so anxious to resume travel and rallies over the past week — to showcase the idea that he not only survived the coronavirus but controlled it.
While the approach may help him appeal to his base as it did in 2016, the strategy has not helped enough to win the support of key voting blocs including senior citizens, suburban women and independent voters. Many of them are turning away from Trump this election cycle, discouraged by his administration’s handling of Covid-19.
“When he said, ‘Don’t let the virus dominate your life,’ I heard a million epidemiologists cry out in terror,” said Jeremy Faust, an emergency physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School. “The fact that when Trump recovered, it was all about him beating the virus and not about, ‘I went through this ordeal and here is what we can do to stay safe’ — that is a terrible disservice. As a president, you have the opportunity to educate people every day.”
It’s a much different procedure from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, a debate coach for Trump’s first presidential debate last month who also contracted Covid-19 around the same time. Upon leaving a weeklong hospital stay, Christie said he was “wrong” for not wearing a mask at the White House and said the president should encourage Americans to wear them.