WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump has a ready solution for almost any crisis: more Donald Trump.
In a template forged in his 2016 convention speech when he declared that “I alone can fix it,” the president has repeatedly put himself forth as the answer, injecting himself into controversies and refusing to cede the spotlight. And that has only accelerated as he barrels toward Election Day.
He resumed the coronavirus task force briefings and, against the advice of some aides, sidelined the public health officials in favor of standing solo on stage. He has bet heavily that his one-on-one debates with Joe Biden will be his best chance to overcome his deficit in the polls.
Hustled to safety Monday by a Secret Service agent after a shooting just outside the White House gates, Trump reappeared at the podium minutes later and said, “I didn’t even think about not coming back.”
After initially staying on the fringes of stalled negotiations, he put himself at the center of the latest coronavirus economic relief effort by signing a series of executive actions that, while perhaps of limited legality and effectiveness, were intended to be viewed as a decisive action. He added that he was but a phone call away if House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wanted to talk.
“Part of the strategy is to suck out all of the oxygen in the room,” said Michael Steele, the former Republican National Committee chair and Trump critic, adding: “The substance of the thing is not always the thing that matters. What matters is how the spotlight is hitting my forehead.”
Like no president before him, Trump fixates on his media coverage, intent on not just winning a news cycle but winning any single moment’s social media headline or cable news chyron, according to three current or former campaign officials not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.
That emphasis on tactics rather than strategy, gunning for a short-term win without consideration that it could also lead to long-term trouble, has allowed the Republican president to survive threats that imperiled his presidency but also may have contributed to the polling slide that began soon after the coronavirus pandemic reached American shores.
For a moment, Trump seemed willing to let someone be the face of coronavirus response. Vice President Mike Pence chaired the task force and was poised to lead the briefings that would educate the public on the deadly virus.
But as the pandemic rattled Wall Street for the first time in late February, the president, just hours after returning from a trip to India, took the podium and didn’t relinquish it for nearly two months. In the weeks that followed, as the news conferences grew increasingly scattershot, aides saw Trump’s standing slide and the briefings were curtailed soon after the president mused about injecting disinfectant.