President Trump contracted the novel coronavirus after months in which he and people around him — his aides, his children, even his golf-club members — avoided taking basic steps to prevent the virus’s spread, like wearing masks and avoiding large indoor crowds.
Mask-wearing had become rare among Trump’s staff and the Secret Service agents and military service crew aboard Air Force One — even after national security adviser Robert C. O’Brien tested positive in July.
On the campaign trail, Trump’s sons Donald Jr. and Eric have spoken to packed audiences in indoor venues. And the Trump campaign violated state regulations limiting the size of gatherings in Nevada, earning a public rebuke from the governor after the president addressed thousands at an indoor event there last month.
They all took their cues from Trump himself, who has rarely worn masks, sometimes mocked those who did and disputed the advice from his own government’s experts
Secret Service agents expressed their anger and frustration to colleagues and friends Friday, saying that the president’s actions have repeatedly put them at risk. “He’s never cared about us,” one agent told a confidant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the internal reaction.
Former Secret Service agents said it was unheard of for agents to openly complain about their president but that some currently in the ranks had become convinced during the pandemic that Trump was willing to put his protectors in harm’s way.
Attendees were so confident that the contagion would not invade their seemingly safe space at the White House that, according to Jenkins, after guests tested negative that day they were instructed they no longer needed to cover their faces. The no-mask mantra applied indoors as well. Cabinet members, senators, Barrett family members and others mixed unencumbered at tightly packed, indoor receptions in the White House’s Diplomatic Room and Cabinet Room.
Five days later, that feeling of invincibility was cruelly punctured. On Thursday, counselor to the president Hope Hicks, who reported feeling symptoms during a trip with the president to Minnesota on Wednesday, tested positive for the virus. Early Friday morning, Trump announced that he and the first lady also had tested positive and had begun isolating inside the White House residence.
On Friday, Lee, Conway and Jenkins announced that they, too, had tested positive, as did Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), who was at the ceremony, and Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel, who had recently spent time with the president, including at an indoor fundraiser last week. At least three journalists who had been at White House events in the past week also reported testing positive on Friday. And White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said he was bracing for additional infections among administration officials.
As Trump’s condition deteriorated during the day Friday, the president and his team ultimately made the decision to send him to Walter Reed preemptively — and, from a public relations perspective, when he was still able to walk to Marine One on his own, according to one outside adviser in frequent contact with White House officials. They feared the possibility of a further decline, and what that might mean, both for the president’s health and his political optics.
[Aides] onsidered the political implications, coming so close to the Nov. 3 election. “We don’t want to be talking about coronavirus and now we’re talking about coronavirus,” the outside adviser said. “The hit writes itself: He can’t protect the country. He couldn’t even protect himself.”
Anne-Marie Slaughter, the head of New America, a liberal-leaning think tank, said the “omnipresence” of the pandemic had made it the defining political challenge for governments around the world. With national electorates in myriad countries assessing leaders chiefly in terms of disease control, she said the United States was no exception.
“If you can’t pass this test, a lot of the rest of it is secondary — if you can’t keep people safe,” Ms. Slaughter said. “It’s just so elemental.”
But in many major countries, she said, voters appeared eager to reward leaders for getting the virus under control, most notably in South Korea where the incumbent president’s party earned a smashing victory in legislative elections last spring. The American campaign has the potential to yield the world’s first major election since the onset of the pandemic in which voters deliver an emphatically negative judgment on their government’s response.
Donald Trump mocks Hillary Clinton over her pneumonia outbreak pic.twitter.com/feHjV6cLDa— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) October 2, 2016