Hume’s tweet sparked instant backlash from critics on the left. By early Tuesday, Hume was still trending on Twitter as detractors questioned whether he valued Biden looking “cool” more than encouraging efforts to slow the spread of the potentially deadly novel coronavirus that has now killed more than 97,000 Americans.
Trump, however, appeared unbothered by the outcry and shared the tweet to his 80.2 million followers Monday night.
Trump’s retweet came at the end of a holiday weekend defined by dueling optics. As officials urged social distancing and the number of reported covid-19 deaths in the United States crept closer to 100,000, viral photos and videos emerged showing beaches, pool parties and raceways packed with crowds raucously celebrating the long weekend.
The contrasting approaches to Memorial Day appeared most obvious in the actions of the nation’s leaders — the president and his presumptive Democratic opponent — as they paid public tributes to lives lost in wars.
Trump, who has largely steered clear of being seen wearing a mask in public and at the White House, was barefaced as he participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery and while speaking later at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. At Arlington, Trump was joined by first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Pence and Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper — all of whom were seen without masks.
Meanwhile, Biden and his wife, Jill Biden, both wearing black masks, left their neighborhood for the first time in more than two months to lay a wreath at the Delaware Memorial Bridge Veterans Memorial Park. Members of Biden’s staff and security detail also sported face coverings during Monday’s outing.
For many, the conflicting images of Trump and Biden marked yet another flash point in the ongoing culture war over the practice of wearing masks, which has become widely politicized as Republicans and Democrats have clashed over how to reopen the country amid the pandemic. Protests and incidents of violence have increased nationwide as some consider orders mandating face coverings government overreach.
A handful of Republican leaders, meanwhile, including North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, have implored their constituents not to view the face coverings as political statements but rather as a necessary tool to help contain the virus.
“I would really love to see in North Dakota that we could just skip this thing that other parts of the nation are going through, where they’re creating a divide — either it’s ideological or political or something — around mask versus no mask,” Burgum said at a news conference Friday.
During an appearance Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” DeWine stressed that what people do now “directly impacts others.”
“This is not about politics,” he said.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Tuesday defended Trump’s tweet, maintaining that the president was “not shaming anyone.” She also said Biden’s decision to wear a mask on Memorial Day “didn’t strike [Trump] as a very data-driven decision” and questioned why the former vice president wasn’t wearing a mask in recent videos that showed him speaking inside his home next to his wife, Jill.
“It is a bit peculiar, though, that in his basement right next to his wife, he’s not wearing a mask, but he’s wearing one on wear outdoors when he’s socially distant,” McEnany said of Biden. “So I think that there was a discrepancy there.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests that Americans wear face coverings while in public in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. “Keep the covering on your face the entire time you’re in public,” the CDC’s guidelines state.
On Monday, Hume and Trump were at the center of the escalating debate about masks.
Critics went after the pair for calling out Biden while simultaneously praising the former vice president’s decision to follow official health guidelines.
“Presidents lead by example, and wearing a mask helps protect others,” Biden campaign spokesman TJ Ducklo told The Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan. “Donald Trump should try it, because his failure to act early on producing [personal protective equipment], on ramping up testing and implementing a coherent national response to this crisis has cost thousands of Americans their lives.”
Ronald A. Klain, an adviser to Biden, hit back at Hume on Twitter with a nearly identical message, tweeting: “A President takes measures to protect others. That’s what a mask does.”
He continued: “That’s what a competent President would have done, months ago: on testing, on PPE, on social distancing. And many fewer Americans would be grieving today.”
As the reactions poured in Monday, Hume doubled down on his criticism of Biden, writing incorrectly that the Bidens had gone to a cemetery and suggesting that the masks were largely for show.
“Uh, he was visiting a cemetery and had been in quarantine for weeks,” Hume tweeted in response to one critic. “The video showed no one within six feet of him beside his wife. So what was the mask for, other than to virtue signal?”
In another tweet, Hume wrote that Biden “got you to think he was showing concern, so I guess the mask served it purpose.”