Bloomberg broke the news, and then CNN confirmed it – Hope Hicks had tested positive of the Covid virus. She had this damned thing, and she had been and was once again one of Donald Trump’s closest advisers and defenders – at his side for years and years. This was not good. He might have this thing too. He might be highly contagious. He would go into quarantine for a bit. Then he’d get back into the public events and whatnot. This was just a pause.
No one expected that, but he rang up Fox News and told Sean Hannity he’d be fine – not to worry – but then, late that same night, he tweeted out that he and the First Lady had tested positive for this Covid virus – they both had this thing. But they’d be fine. He felt fine. Later, in the morning, his White House doctor said he had “mild symptoms” – a slight fever, some congestion, some fatigue – but Donald Trump has stopped tweeting. Something was up, and as the sun set at the White House, he was airlifted to Walter Reed Hospital, for a “few days” there. But he was fine. This was a precaution. And he walked to the helicopter dressed in his usual blue suit and absurdly long necktie with a wan little smile and a nod and wave to the small crowd. He’d be fine. And then he disappeared. The rest was a mystery.
Things had gone wrong for him, but to understand just how wrong takes a deep look into who he is. Politico’s Michael Kruse takes that deep dive:
One day in May of 1918, Donald Trump’s grandfather was walking with Donald Trump’s father along a sidewalk in Queens and said he felt sick. The next day, he was dead… The death certificate said full pneumonia, according to the reporting of the biographer Gwenda Blair, making the elder Trump an early victim of what would come to be known as the Spanish flu.
Fred Trump, twelve at the time, remained stoic, or tried to. “I wasn’t that upset,” he told Blair more than seven decades later. “You know how kids are. But I got upset watching my mother crying and being so sad. It was seeing her that made me feel bad, not my own feelings about what had happened.”
He had no feelings, and he saw no need for them:
The boy who lost his father to the last worst pandemic in turn taught his sons to be “killers.” The underlying message, though: “Being a killer was really code for being invulnerable,” as Mary Trump put it in her recent book. “Going forward,” the niece of Donald Trump wrote of Fred Trump, “he refused to acknowledge or feel loss.” The family, in her recollection, never discussed Fred Trump’s father, or his death, or its cause. It was the lesson above all others that Fred Trump passed on to his children – foremost to his middle son, his preeminent heir, the boy who would become the 45th president of the United States.
A president who far more often than not has tried to ignore or downplay or wish away the most devastating global outbreak of illness since the one that ended the life of his grandfather. Who mostly has refused to so much as wear a mask as the spread of sickness has wreaked havoc. Who mocked his opponent during Tuesday’s debate for his face-covering diligence. Whose every word and gesture communicates his priorities to the nation he leads. And for whom any acknowledgment of vulnerability always has seemed to be tantamount in his mind to an impermissible admission of weakness.
“Weakness,” in the Trump family, Mary Trump wrote, “was perhaps the greatest sin of all.”
“Weakness,” Tony Schwartz, co-author of The Art of the Deal, once told me, “is Trump’s greatest fear by far.”
That might explain Donald Trump’s slow silent walk to the waiting helicopter. He knew his late father was watching. This stupid little virus had undone him. He was a weak man, or as Kruse puts it:
He knows, in the most deep-seated way, of the utter unavoidability of human vulnerability – anybody’s, everybody’s and, of course, his own. And yet Trump resolutely followed the mandate his father modeled to squelch any such concession. Fundamentally disparate but inextricably linked, these are two of the most essential and major motivators of Trump’s lifelong pattern of behavior. Now, with the news that Trump has tested positive for the virus that’s killed more than a million people worldwide, all of this has come to a perilous head…
He is 74 and obese, and already was facing a pending public reckoning – and the fear of being seen as anything other than strong in the end is precisely what has made him so weak.
Obsessions will do that:
Trump has spent his life attempting to project uncommon vigor and blind positivity – the exact opposite of this awareness of risk, dumb-luck dread and fate. “You can’t be scared,” he (actually, Tony Schwartz) wrote in The Art of the Deal in 1987. “Nothing scares me,” he told a reporter from Newsday in 1991. He’s repeated versions of these declarations ever since. It is also, on the most elemental level, what’s fueled over the past five-plus years his political ascent – calling America weak, calling his opponents weak, issuing again and again facile expressions of blunt, impervious strength.
And throughout this disastrous year, as a spreading, insidious pathogen has created for him ever-increasing jeopardy, political and otherwise, Trump time and time again has dismissed the advice of experts and flouted the public health rules and regulations of his own administration, from his toxic use of the word “hoax” to his flip talk of miracle cures to his reckless politicization of the best-practices of wearing masks to his delinquent staging of packed-crowd rallies from Charlotte to Tulsa to Nevada and back to North Carolina and Florida and Pennsylvania and, just the other night, Minnesota – by which point his close aide Hope Hicks already reportedly was beginning to exhibit symptoms.
That meant that this all came crashing down:
As a boy, Trump watched his father’s residual response to the death of his father. As a man in his 30s, he watched the alcohol-exacerbated descent of his older brother as well as the AIDS-driven demise of his mentor, the infamous Roy Cohn – in both cases, though, keeping conspicuous, even callous distance from these distinct but marked and unmistakable reminders of human frailty. And as a man in his 40s and 50s, he watched the dominant, domineering Fred Trump, wracked by dementia, shrivel and wither away. Now, in the assessment of Schwartz, Donald Trump finally is being forced to grapple squarely with the plain reality of human vulnerability.
“This is the heart of it: This feeling that he cannot control his circumstance is overwhelming and unbearable to him, so he has built a life around avoiding that feeling, including by inventing a reality… a fictional world… a myth he’s made for himself that has almost no bearing on what’s actually going on,” Schwartz told me Friday.
“He is confronting his own mortality – here it is – and now it’s physical, it’s political, it’s mental, it’s emotional,” he said.
“On every count, weakness.”
It all fell apart, and CNN’s Kevin Liptak has the details:
President Donald Trump arrived Friday evening at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where the White House says he will remain hospitalized for “the next few days.”
Emerging from the White House residence at 6:16 p.m. ET for his first public appearance since announcing 16 hours earlier he had tested positive for coronavirus, Trump walked under his own power to his waiting helicopter and displayed no major outward signs of illness.
Wearing a navy blue suit, a blue silk necktie and a dark face mask, Trump waved to the media and gave a thumbs-up, but did not stop to talk. Chief of staff Mark Meadows, also wearing a mask, followed him aboard.
Trump landed at the hospital a short time later, saluting his military aides before climbing into his limousine for a brief ride to the hospital’s main building. His hand could be seen waving as he sped past assembled media.
After his arrival, the President posted an 18-second video to his Twitter account, seeking to reassure the American people he is doing “very well” after his coronavirus diagnosis.
No one believed that:
His upbeat attitude did not reflect the inherent severity of the situation. It remains extremely rare for a president to overnight in hospital, given the extensive medical facilities available at the White House.
Trump himself was said to be spooked after he announced he tested positive early Friday, and has become increasingly alarmed by his diagnosis as he developed symptoms like a fever overnight, according to a person familiar with his reaction.
A Trump adviser said there is reason for concern about the President’s health.
“This is serious,” the adviser said. The adviser went on to describe Trump as very tired, very fatigued and having some trouble breathing.
But he’s not a WEAK man! That was the message:
There has been no transfer of power to Vice President Mike Pence, said White House spokeswoman Alyssa Farah. “The President is in charge,” she said.
A White House official on Friday evening stressed there is no reason for the public to be alarmed about Trump’s condition.
The official acknowledged that Trump is dealing with some symptoms of the virus and is “fatigued.” But, according to the official, the President’s condition is not deteriorating. In The official said there are plans to keep the public updated on Trump’s health over the coming days.
The President’s condition is not deteriorating, but there will be no updates on his health at all. There’s no need:
The President is taking the situation “very seriously,” the official added.
The White House had continued to insist the President “remains in good spirits, has mild symptoms, and has been working throughout the day” in the hours before he traveled to Walter Reed.
Trust them on that, but it’s too late for that now:
President Trump left the White House for medical monitoring at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Friday, throwing the presidential campaign into uncharted terrain as both parties grappled with the political fallout from his coronavirus diagnosis.
Never in recent memory has a candidate been hospitalized for an indefinite period in the final weeks of a presidential race, creating an extraordinary situation with uncertain political dynamics for both sides…
Mr. Trump’s illness places the virus firmly at the center of the presidential campaign for the final weeks of the election, intensifying the focus on an issue where voters overwhelmingly given the president low marks for his performance.
With the president trailing in national and many swing state polls, Republicans worried that his medical condition would significantly hamper his ability to change the trajectory of the race into his favor.
They need to regroup:
The Trump campaign announced that it was suspending his events and those of his family members, halting the crowded rallies that energized the president and his supporters.
Joseph R. Biden Jr., after announcing that he had tested negative for the coronavirus – twice – said he would continue campaigning as planned, offering prayers for the president’s recovery and a forceful plea for Americans to wear masks at a campaign event in Michigan on Friday afternoon. His campaign pulled down its negative advertising, though some ads may take several days to stop airing on television.
Earlier Friday, Mr. Trump did not appear on a scheduled call with governors from across the country, and Vice President Mike Pence took his place…
By Friday evening, it was unclear when the president would leave the hospital and far from certain that the final two presidential debates would proceed as planned later this month.
And add this:
Six people – including the president – have said they tested positive for the coronavirus after attending President Trump’s announcement of his nomination of Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court, throwing the future of her confirmation hearings into question.
Top Senate Democrats demanded on Friday that Republicans slow their speedy timetable for confirming Judge Barrett, saying that if Republicans marched ahead with hearings without an understanding of the full extent of the virus’s spread from the event, an “already illegitimate process will become a dangerous one.”
Too many people may now be too highly contagious to proceed with this Supreme Court vote. They’re dropping like flies:
Many top Republicans attended the Rose Garden ceremony on Sept. 26 without masks and without distancing, raising concerns that others may have contracted the virus but had not yet been diagnosed.
Melania Trump, the first lady; Kellyanne Conway, Mr. Trump’s former counselor; and John I. Jenkins, the president of the University of Notre Dame, also tested positive after the event…
Leading Republicans said they planned to continue “full steam ahead” to confirm Judge Barrett before Election Day. But Mr. Trump’s illness, and the fact that two senators on the pivotal Judiciary Committee – Senator Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, and Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah – have also tested positive after attending the event, raise questions about whether their extraordinarily ambitious timetable could hold.
Mr. Tillis’s diagnosis also dealt a devastating blow to Republicans’ hopes of retaining control of the Senate, given that he is already facing a difficult re-election battle.
This is a political nightmare, and the New York Times’ Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman explain why:
With Mr. Biden already leading in the polls, and Mr. Trump’s electoral prospects dependent on his ability to campaign, the president has little time to change the trajectory of the race. The fate of his re-election bid increasingly seemed to hinge on his own health – and whether he will able to overcome the disease and persuade voters to give him another four years.
The split-screen between the candidates on Friday represented a striking reversal from the last few months, during which Mr. Trump pushed on with his rallies and belittled Mr. Biden for adhering to health protocols and running a “basement campaign.”
Biden isn’t in any basement, but he does play by the rules, and because he does, and thus doesn’t get sick, he’s now the one who is out and about, campaigning, and not gloating at all:
The former vice president was careful to avoid anything that could be perceived as exploiting the situation Friday; at an appearance in Grand Rapids, Mich., he did not criticize Mr. Trump for his handling of the virus, and closed his remarks by calling on God to “protect the first family, and every family that is dealing with this virus.”
Mr. Biden’s campaign also moved to take down negative television commercials Friday that lashed Mr. Trump for his handling of the virus, according to a Democratic official familiar with the ad traffic. And Mr. Biden’s campaign manager, Jennifer O’Malley Dillon, emailed the entire campaign urging its members to “refrain from posting about the situation on social media.”
Mr. Biden’s aides said he had no plans to step away from his travels – at least for now.
Biden does not have to prove that he is not a weak man. Donald Trump’s obsessions are Donald Trump’s problem. Biden has some ideas on how to make things better in the crazy times, which makes him the strong one here, or at least the responsible sensible one here:
In the White House, advisers to the president acknowledged that the positive test would remind voters of how dismissive Mr. Trump had been about the virus, not only with the neglect of his own safety but also in his overly rosy assessments about a pandemic that has killed more than 208,000 Americans. Mr. Trump’s recklessness, one adviser acknowledged, amounted to a political “disaster.”
As it became clear late Friday that a number of attendees at last week’s Rose Garden announcement of Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination had also tested positive, the White House was also confronting accusations they had hosted a so-called “super spreader” event.
It seems that the “killer” who despises the weak and who fears nothing, because he’s so strong, is quite weak:
GOP officials were concerned that a race with very few undecided voters would freeze in place. Multiple party strategists said their polling in the two nights after the presidential debate had revealed substantial slippage, and not just at the top of the ticket.
“This limits Trump’s opportunity to turn this thing around and drive a winning message,” said Terry Sullivan, a Republican consultant. “He’s lost any ability to control the narrative.”
Should the final weeks of the campaign be dominated by the coronavirus, Mr. Trump’s challenge will be intensified by his casual approach to the disease and its deadliness.
The president spent months disregarding and mocking the basic precautions, such as wearing a mask that his health advisers were urging Americans to take to protect themselves.
It’s over for him, perhaps:
Few Democrats had any degree of confidence on how the final weeks of the race would play out.
Representative Dina Titus of Nevada said Mr. Biden should proceed. “I don’t see why he should quit campaigning unless something really bad happens,” Ms. Titus said. “And then all bets are off.”
But so far there’s only this:
What some Democrats feared, and Republicans hoped, is that there would be a rallying around Mr. Trump and he would garner sympathy from voters. Yet even the most optimistic Republican allowed that those sentiments wouldn’t automatically translate into votes.
At the very least, Republicans said they hoped Mr. Trump’s illness would prompt him to refrain from the inflammatory rhetoric that has alienated many voters and make the election less of a referendum on his behavior.
“Peace and calm helps him,” said Alex Castellanos, a longtime Republican strategist.
But he can’t manage either of those, not now:
After having gone forward with the large rallies he craves, despite rules against large gatherings in many states, Mr. Trump will not be able to leave Washington during a final, crucial stretch of the campaign.
Moreover, one of his central arguments against Mr. Biden, that the 77-year-old former vice president is enfeebled and unfit to lead the country, has now been undermined by questions about the president’s own health.
“Trump is now in the position of becoming exhibit No. 1 for the failure of his leadership on coronavirus, and he runs the risk that his supporters will feel misled by his dismissiveness of the virus and the need for precautions,” said Geoff Garin, a Democratic pollster.
Now many of them might suddenly see a sneering insecure old rich man frightened to death of appearing weak. Only sissies and cowards take precautions? But now it’s possible he may actually die, frightened to death of appearing weak. Tens of thousands have already died because he was frightened to death of appearing weak.
Max Boot puts that this way:
The president deserves our sympathy and best wishes for a speedy recovery – but he cannot, and will not, escape judgment for his failure to treat the coronavirus with the gravity and urgency that it deserves. On Sept. 21, he told an Ohio rally that covid-19 “affects virtually nobody.” At Tuesday’s presidential debate, he said of Joe Biden, “I don’t wear masks like him.” Even on Thursday, shortly before he was diagnosed, Trump said that “the end of the pandemic is in sight.”
Trump’s actions were as dangerous as his words. He continued to hold rallies, sometimes indoors, at which many attendees did not wear masks. Incredibly, he attended an indoor event in New Jersey on Thursday after his aide Hope Hicks tested positive. Few White House staffers wear masks, because the president frowns upon them. Even the president’s diagnosis did not change this reckless behavior. At the presidential debate, Trump’s family disregarded the rules by refusing to don masks, putting everyone in danger – including Joe Biden and Jill Biden.
Trump seemed to base his whole reelection campaign on the pretense that the coronavirus was magically going to disappear. Now he has been reminded, in the most awful way possible, that the threat is not going away anytime soon. Not even all of the resources of the White House could keep him safe.
But wait, his father said be a “killer” – despise weakness and be invulnerable. And here he is. And here we are. His father was wrong.