How Trump’s erratic behavior and failure on coronavirus doomed his reelection

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Christmas Coming of Age Contemporary

How Trump's erratic\

By Ashley Parker, 

Josh Dawsey, 

Matt Viser and 

Michael Scherer

The same impulses that helped lift the president to

victory in 2016 contributed to his undoing four years later.

(Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

(Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

(Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

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Air Force One was descending into Detroit when President Trump posed a question that would come to define his entire approach to the deadly coronavirus pandemic: “Do you think I should wear a mask?” he asked the aides and advisers gathered in the plane’s front cabin.

Trump was headed to visit a Ford Motor plant in Ypsilanti, Mich., which by May was already a coronavirus hot zone, with more than 5,000 dead, thousands more sickened — and cases still spiking — in the critical Midwest battleground state.

Follow the latest on Election 2020

But the responses were nearly unanimous, with senior White House officials arguing that wearing a mask was unnecessary and would send a bad signal to the public about the magnitude of the crisis.

You’re the leader of the free world, they told him, and the leader of the free world doesn’t need a mask.

The conclusion of the episode — like so much of Trump’s presidency and reelection campaign — was a muddle. The president donned a mask for his private tour of the Ford plant as required by company rules, but took it off before appearing in public, telling the assembled media, “I didn’t want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it.”

Around the same time, on a Zoom call with a core group of advisers, former vice president Joe Biden posed a similar question — “Should I wear a mask when I go out?” — in preparation for a Memorial Day visit with his wife, Jill, to a Delaware veterans park.

The occasion marked the first time Biden would leave his house in 71 days, and his aides were unanimous in their response: Of course he should wear a mask.

The group discussed whether he needed a highly protective N95 mask or if a cloth one would suffice since he would be outside, and decided on a cloth mask. His team specially procured black masks from a local business for the somber occasion.

For the event, Biden emerged from a large black SUV wearing aviator shades and a large black mask. He kept it on while laying a wreath of cream roses. And he kept the mask on while talking — “It feels good to be out of my house,” he said — only removing it when he was safely back in the vehicle.

Trump and his allies were quick to mock Biden and his mask, but the Democrat embraced the image, changing his social media avatar to a picture of him staring into the camera while wearing dark sunglasses and the black face covering.

“Wear a mask,” Biden tweeted.

LEFT: Joe Biden speaks in Miami on Oct. 5. He lost Florida, but his masked and measured approach to the coronavirus pandemic helped propel him to become president-elect. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington. LEFT: Joe Biden speaks in Miami on Oct. 5. He lost Florida, but his masked and measured approach to the coronavirus pandemic helped propel him to become president-elect. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post) RIGHT: The same day Biden appeared with a mask in Miami, President Trump made a maskless stance at the White House upon returning from treatment for covid-19 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

As Biden worked his way toward eventual victory, the mask would become a symbol of his entire campaign — a durable cloth representation of Biden’s caution and deliberation, his steady leadership style, his adherence to science and facts, his reassuring vanilla decency.

The story of Biden’s victory is as much the story of Trump’s defeat — a devastating coda for a leader who has long feared weakness and losing above almost all else, but who became the first one-term president in nearly 30 years.

[America’s failed response: A Post documentary analyzes how Trump politicized the pandemic and ignored decades of preparation]

Trump was the most unpopular president of modern times: Divisive and alienating, he rarely sought to reach out to the middle and his erratic behavior and harder-edged policies were strongly opposed by most Americans. Even before this year, his reelection would have been difficult.

But the president finally lost, aides and allies said, because of how he mismanaged the virus. He lost, they said, over the summer, when the virus didn’t go away as he promised; when racial unrest roiled the nation in the wake of George Floyd’s death and protesters ran rampant through the streets; and when federal and local authorities gassed largely peaceful demonstrators in Lafayette Square across from the White House so Trump could stage a photo op. And he lost, they said, during a roughly three-week stretch from late September to mid-October, when an angry and brooding Trump heckled and interrupted his way through the first debate and then, several days later, announced he had tested positive for the coronavirus.

He also lost, aides added, after years of confrontational and incendiary conduct turned off independent voters, who finally said they had seen enough.

The same impulses that helped lift him to victory in 2016 — the outsider ethos; the angry, burn-it-all-down cri de coeur; the fiery and controversial rants; the false reality forged through untruths and deception — contributed to his undoing just four years later. Exhausted voters in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, who once gave Trump a shot, turned on him Tuesday.

“If he loses, it’s going to be because of covid,” Ronna McDaniel, chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, said shortly before Election Day.

This portrait of how Biden defeated Trump — and how Trump helped sabotage his own hopes for a second term — is the result of interviews with 65 Trump and Biden aides, advisers, confidants, lawmakers and political operatives, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to share candid details of the 2020 campaign.

From the beginning, Trump and Biden made wildly different bets on the path to victory in 2020, taking divergent routes on nearly everything: from tone and message, to how to run their respective campaigns — and whether to wear a mask.

Throughout his first term, Trump was a leader who governed as he had first campaigned — freewheeling, chaotic, and as an outsider — despite now being the incumbent. He was controversial, profane and used racist rhetoric, offering up grievance-filled tirades that portrayed himself as the victim.

Biden, who said his decision to run came in the aftermath of the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, instead viewed the race as “a battle for the soul of the nation,” as he put it, and tried not to deviate from the singular message that Trump was unfit to lead the country.

But the most drastic gamble each of them made was on how to address the deadly coronavirus pandemic, which choked the economy, has killed more than 236,000 Americans, and upended the presidential race.

For Trump, the coronavirus prompted a shake-up of his already-dysfunctional campaign, turned the contest into a referendum on his handling of the pandemic, and even sickened the president and his inner circle.

[Trump’s den of dissent: Inside the White House task force as coronavirus surges]

Yet through it all, Trump kept returning to a faulty strategy of trying to wish, tweet and riff away the deadly virus. He forced his team to create an alternate reality in which he held massive rallies — supporters packed together, few sporting masks — and said that the coronavirus was only a modest threat and was going to disappear any day.uomo (D

March 10, 2021 19:28

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3 comments

20:58 Mar 18, 2021

I don't get it... this is a story from the Washington Post...

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21:11 Mar 18, 2021

I know

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20:07 Mar 10, 2021

Thanks you

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