But this visit raises some important questions — and potentially points to a serious dilemma for Trump’s opponent, Joe Biden.
Here’s the dilemma: It looks likely that Trump will be doing more such trips, which means he will basically be out campaigning, while Biden is not. Trump is able to stage these trips — and is conducting them and other events maskless, sending a message of normalcy to the country — because he’s able to benefit from special access to testing.
Will Biden be able to benefit from the same? Shouldn’t he be able to benefit from the same?
At the Honeywell plant that Trump toured, many employees of the company wore masks. Trump’s video showed those employees wearing masks — in fairness, his team didn’t try to hide this — but he and the executives did not wear them, as the video also shows.
It appears this may have been in violation of company policy. CNN’s Jim Acosta tweeted that a sign in the facility said face masks were required.
So what happened here? A Honeywell spokesperson sent me the following statement:
Following White House recommended protocol, a small number of individuals directly interfacing with the President on Tuesday were tested for COVID-19 immediately prior to the event, received negative test results, and were permitted to not wear masks during portions of the visit based on that medical screening. All others present were wearing masks and social distancing in accordance with Honeywell’s site policy.
That strongly suggests the White House initiated this outcome: Honeywell executives, following the White House’s lead, got tested and cleared before interacting with Trump, which they did without masks. Trump aides traveling with him also didn’t wear masks.
Many of the others (such as those in the audience) wore masks, in accordance with Honeywell policy.
That means Honeywell executives might have violated their own company policy, in keeping with what Trump and the White House wanted, obviously for staging purposes.
Making this worse, the White House is offering a version of events that doesn’t exactly sync with Honeywell’s version. A White House official told CNN and CNBC that Honeywell told the White House that Trump and his entourage didn’t need to wear masks.
And on Wednesday afternoon, Trump told reporters the same thing.
“I asked specifically the head of Honeywell, ‘Should I wear a mask?’ and he said, ‘Well, you don’t need one in this territory,’” Trump said.
When I asked the Honeywell spokesperson for further clarification, he referred me back to the company’s statement — which, again, suggests that masks are required and that the White House initiated what happened.
And let’s face facts here: It’s obvious that if Trump wants to hold an event without masks, as he clearly does, his corporate hosts will feel pressure to go along with it (as Honeywell’s statement suggests happened).
The reason this matters: Trump is almost certainly not wearing a mask at such events to send a message to the country that we’re approaching normalcy. That’s likely why Trump and Vice President Pence have been lately holding other events without masks and proper social distancing.
Another reason this matters: As David Nakamura reports, Trump and Pence are able to do this because they have special access to a rapid testing mechanism. Indeed, the White House has defended these mask-free events on precisely that basis.
It’s not surprising that Trump and his entourage have such special testing access, given that he’s president. But this still raises the question of whether Trump is exploiting this access to mislead the country into believing things are normal when the rest of the country lacks this access to testing and thus doesn’t enjoy the safety or quasi-normalcy Trump does.
“Particularly to his supporters, the behavioral choices he makes carry far more weight than virtually anything else,” Jeremy Konyndyk, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development, told me. Konyndyk added that even if Trump and those around him benefit from special testing, “what’s seen” by Americans is, “don’t wear a mask.”
All this raises another question. Given that Trump will almost certainly now start traveling more — again, using this special testing access to facilitate it — where does that leave Biden, who’s stuck broadcasting from his basement?
“The big question now is should the Biden campaign be given access to these same tests, which would allow him to also begin to travel, meet with staff and stay competitive with the GOP ticket?” Democratic strategist Simon Rosenberg told me.
“None of these trips Trump and Pence have done were essential to their jobs or in defeating the virus,” Rosenberg added. “They were very elaborate campaign photo ops.”
On top of all that, one can imagine that at other staging grounds for Trump’s future events, company executives will feel pressure to do events without masks. That is, they’ll feel pressure to help Trump send this message of normalcy, too.