President Trump used the coronavirus briefing Tuesday to warn of difficult times ahead, while calling on Americans to wear masks and socially distance.
Well, better late than never.
Trump has been all over the map during the pandemic.
In March, he soberly warned that the nation faced a “great national trial unlike any it has ever faced.” On April 2, he said, “The sacrifices we make over the next four weeks will have countless American lives saved.”
But as the weeks went by, Trump got antsy about the impact on the economy and criticized Democratic Governors for shutting down their states. On June 17, Trump said the pandemic is “fading away. It’s going to fade away.”
However, the number of cases and the death toll have continued to rise. As the virus has spread, Trump’s poll numbers have dropped. A Fox News Poll released Sunday had Joe Biden up eight points 49-41 percent, while the President’s disapproval of his handling of the pandemic stood at 56 percent.
Trump was also hearing grumbling from within his own party.
Maryland Republican Governor Larry Hogan wrote a scathing commentary saying it was “hopeless” to wait for the President to run the nation’s response to the pandemic.
The conservative Washington Examiner opined “Trump has been offering rosy talk and been giving mixed signals on the virus for months. And it’s hard to believe he’s taking the crisis seriously when he spends so much time on Twitter settling personal scores.”
All this and more makes Trump’s pivot significant. He was serious and subdued—for the most part—during much of the briefing, warning that the situation would “unfortunately get worse before it gets better.”
He pulled a mask from his pocket and called on Americans to use them. “We’re asking everybody that when you are not able to socially distance, wear a mask, get a mask,” Trump said. “Whether you like the mask or not, they have impact.”
That is what health experts have been saying for months, and it is helpful that the President, who commands the bully pulpit, is finally willing to reinforce the message. It is also a smart political play because the longer the pandemic drags on, the worse his chances are for re-election.
Trump loves to riff, and he did drift off message later in the briefing. He wields Twitter like a scythe, taking out his enemies in sweeping strokes. His bombast inspires his most ardent supporters.
However, steady, consistent guidance on dealing with the pandemic is what is needed now.
Tuesday’s briefing was a refreshing and badly needed course correction for the President. The country has a better chance of defeating the pandemic sooner rather than later if Trump can stay that course.