by Sebastian Smith
President Donald Trump checked out of hospital Monday after four days of emergency treatment for Covid-19, pulling off his mask the moment he reached the White House and vowing to quickly get back on the campaign trail.
Shortly beforehand, Trump had tweeted that Americans, who have lost nearly 210,000 people to the virus, have nothing to fear.
A series of made-for-TV moments allowed Trump to squeeze the maximum from his medical discharge, starting by exiting alone from the large gold-colored front doors of the Walter Reed military hospital just outside Washington.
Live on television, he then walked in a mask to a limousine, giving the thumbs up, before boarding Marine One helicopter for the quick flight to the White House — which he left on Friday after falling ill.
After landing, he walked up the steps onto the South Portico’s stately balcony, demonstratively removed his mask and offered a 23-second salute to the departing Marine One.
With less than a month until Election Day on November 3, polls show Trump trailing Democrat Joe Biden. The president’s hospitalization left him scrambling even harder to catch up.
The return to the White House was minutely stage-managed to show he is physically fit, while a series of striking tweets demonstrated Trump’s coming angle of political attack: that he personally beat Covid and will now lead the country to its own comeback.
“Will be back on the Campaign Trail soon!!!” he said in one tweet.
“Don’t be afraid of Covid,” he said in another, claiming to be feeling rejuvenated after his illness.
The remark startled his rival, who was campaigning Monday in Florida.
“Tell that to the 205,000 families who lost somebody,” Biden snapped.
The former vice president added to his comments later Monday at an outdoor town hall in Miami, where he criticized Trump for downplaying the importance of masks.
“I would hope that the president, having gone through what he went through — and I’m glad he seems to be coming along pretty well — would communicate the right lesson to the American people: masks matter,” Biden said.
That recommendation appeared to go unheeded, as Trump pushed out a new, unfiltered message to Americans: “Don’t let it dominate your life — get out there, be careful,” Trump said in a tweeted video.
– Sickness around Trump –
The 74-year-old Republican’s display of bravado came the same day that his own chief spokeswoman tested positive — the latest in a viral outbreak raging within the White House.
And despite his claims to be in good health again, a combination of secrecy, conflicting information from officials and the viral spread among his own circle damaged his credibility.
In a briefing at Walter Reed, presidential physician Sean Conley said Trump is “back” but that he would not be “entirely out of the woods” for another week.
Despite Trump’s characteristic claim that Covid-19 should not be of major concern, polls show it is a huge worry for Americans. His widely panned handling of the crisis this year is also reckoned to be the main reason Biden, 77, is surging in polls.
Illustrating the divide between the reality described by health experts and the White House’s defiance, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany became the latest to announce a positive test result Monday.
Other positive cases close to Trump now include his wife Melania, aide Hope Hicks, campaign manager Bill Stepien, two of McEnany’s assistants according to US media, and more than half a dozen others from the president’s circle.
– Trump singlehandedly ‘defeats’ Covid? –
Beset by revelations that he avoids paying almost any federal income tax and a slew of other scandals, Trump was already behind Biden when he fell ill.
But the biggest liability in his scramble for a second term was always his pandemic response.
For months, Trump has given the appearance of trying to wish away the catastrophe and get back to his reelection narrative of a strong economy.
Trump now looks poised to try and claim that in getting quickly out of hospital, he has personally vanquished the virus — and will go on to do the same for the rest of the country.
An unofficial White House-themed gift shop announced Monday it will sell a commemorative coin titled “President Donald J. Trump Defeats COVID” for $100.
– Biden gets advantage –
For all of Trump’s determination to reassert himself, he has lost several precious days of a campaign that revolves heavily around his large-scale rallies and image of personal strength.
The day after he announced his positive test, he was to have flown to battleground Wisconsin, ignoring the fact he would gather crowds in one of the nation’s worst coronavirus hotspots.
Biden, meanwhile, has maintained his slow-but-steady campaign that has always emphasized health precautions — a pared-back style that Trump calls weakness and mocked as recently as last week.
The upheaval has led to unusual interest in this Wednesday’s televised debate between the vice presidential candidates — Republican Mike Pence and Biden’s running mate Kamala Harris — who will be separated by a Plexiglas barrier for the event.
© Agence France-Presse
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