'How is the president feeling?' shouldn’t be a difficult question to answer. And yet over the last 24 hours, nobody could say with any clarity that Donald Trump was ill, on the mend, or perfectly fine. Even reporters with impeccable sources in the White House bubble were left flabbergasted as completely contradictory accounts emerged from multiple sources. Minutes after the president’s doctors emerged from the Walter Reed medical complex to brief reporters about a president coming back from the coronavirus strong and in good spirits, the White House chief of staff told the press that Trump’s condition was quite serious. Trump, who can’t stand when subordinates are fouling up the message, decided to take matters into is own hands by releasing a meandering short video from inside the hospital: 'I came here, wasn’t feeling so well. I feel much better now.'
The White House messaging on the president’s health is in many ways representative of how the Trump administration has tackled the Covid-19 crisis since its inception: confused, disjointed, uncoordinated, laissez-faire. Even ordinary Republicans, normally docile and obedient to Trump’s whims, are coming around to the notion that if Trump took the coronavirus more seriously from the beginning, he may not have been infected.
White House staffers and Trump campaign operatives are flailing in front of the cameras with very little ammunition. With the top of the ticket sidelined for the next ten days, the campaign manager testing positive himself and the pool of infected White House staffers growing by the day, Trump’s political operatives are desperately trying to put lipstick on a fat, ugly pig.
Strategists and aides spent Sunday morning on television hoping to convince the nation that the president’s health was improving. 'He said he was getting back on his feet; he was cracking jokes,' senior campaign adviser Jason Miller told ABC News. 'I know president Trump is on the mend, as you've seen from the video of him he is doing well, he is feeling well, he is getting better,' another Trump operative said. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien, who was Covid-19 positive himself, went on CBS News to say that Trump wants to get back to work. It’s all-hands-on-deck for the White House.
This is doubly so for the campaign team, which is now left without a candidate for the next week and a half. The numbers didn’t look especially encouraging for the president even before he contracted the coronavirus – his performance against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden during the debate last Tuesday rubbed pretty much everybody on the planet the wrong way. But now that Trump is held up in the hospital, it’s impossible for his political strategists to talk about anything other than the virus.
The virus, of course, is the one subject the Trump campaign would prefer to avoid. Democrats understand this, which is why they will talk abut nothing else between now and Election Day. 'It’s harder and harder to see how Trump wins. What’s his argument?' one Biden adviser told Politico. 'Donald Trump did everything to pretend coronavirus didn’t exist. Now there’s no way he can escape it.' Biden may be a gentleman and revile negative campaigning, but as a life-long politician, he smells blood in the water.
This morning, Dr. Brian Garibaldi, one of Trump’s doctors, said the president could be discharged as soon as Monday if his prognosis continues to improve. For Trump, notoriously impatient with being away from centre-stage, down nationally in the polls by ten points and eager to dangle the next shiny object to the press in order to switch the conversation, this is the best news he has heard in weeks.