But in the hours after we learned that counselor to the president Hope Hicks had tested positive for the novel coronavirus and before we learned Trump himself had it, he offered some strange comments that seemed to lay the groundwork for how he could explain his impending diagnosis: It might have come from the military or law enforcement.
“You know, it’s very hard, when you’re with soldiers, when you’re with airmen, when you’re with Marines, and I’m with — and the police officers,” Trump said. “I’m with them so much. And when they come over here, it’s very hard to say, stay back, stay back. It’s a tough kind of a situation.”
Trump then turned to his own test and to Hicks. “So, I just went for a test, and we’ll see what happens. I mean, who knows? But you know her very well. She’s fantastic. And she’s done a great job.”
And then he again returned to the alleged potential spreaders.
“But it’s very, very hard when you are with people from the military or … law enforcement, and they come over to you, and they want to hug you, and they want to kiss you, because we really have done a good job for them,” Trump said. “And you get close, and things happen.”
The confluence of circumstances Thursday night led to plenty of speculation. The White House has access to rapid-response tests, so how could Trump not know at that point whether he had tested positive? Hicks reportedly fell ill Wednesday and was quarantined on Air Force One. But by Thursday night, Trump still didn’t have a final word? (Trump’s White House has rarely been forthcoming with his health information.)
It was also an odd way to explain Hicks’s positive test. However much military members and law enforcement appreciate what the Trump White House has done for them, are they really going up to Trump’s low-profile senior counselor, who rarely speaks publicly, to hug her and try to kiss her?
It’s clear Trump was setting the stage for how he would explain either Hicks’s positive test or his own. His and the White House’s cavalier posture toward mask-wearing and continuing to hold large public rallies and events was suddenly looking more foolhardy than ever, and Trump sought to pre-blame it on something else — something that, conveniently, reflected a deep affection for Donald Trump.
His explanation also tracks with his often questionable stories about just how much affection supporters show him in private. Just this week, he cited a construction worker who he said was crying in gratitude when they met. He has told very similar stories about a coal miner, a steelworker, a farmer and a man who looked like a football player, as CNN’s Daniel Dale noted Wednesday, often with plenty of “sirs” interspersed. There is no doubt supporters will be in awe and perhaps become emotional when meeting a president, but Trump’s history of fabulism looms over his descriptions.
Whether there’s some truth to it, here was the president effectively blaming military members and law enforcement for not being more careful when meeting their country’s leaders; there’s no other way to read it. It also didn’t allow for the idea that there should have been precautions to prevent these alleged scenes, which the Secret Service is more than capable of providing.
But Trump has never been interested in all of that, and he clearly set the tone for the coronavirus being allowed to spread — whether it’s in how the White House or his campaign has handled precautions such as masks and social distancing, or in how he has downplayed the severity of the virus, which has led his supporters to eschew such basic precautions, much like Trump has.
This is unquestionably a sad moment in U.S. history; any president coming down with a serious illness can be destabilizing, not just for the country but for the world. But Trump’s effort to pre-spin this one is a thoroughly odd one, and it’s one that glosses over so much of what probably contributed to an outcome that health officials and his critics have long warned about — and has now happened.