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Trump shifts tone on coronavirus after grim new data, ally’s criticism



  • In another abrupt shift of tone at a Tuesday press briefing, President Donald Trump warned that the US faced a “very, very painful two weeks ahead” with the coronavirus pandemic.
  • It came after he was presented with grim new data indicating that even with strict social distancing measures in place 240,000 Americans could die, according to Axios.
  • The dark shift in tone also came a day after sports radio DJ Mike Francesca, usually a staunch backer of the president, criticized him for introducing a pillow-company executive who effusively praised him at a coronavirus press briefing.
  • The president’s response to the crisis appear to have been prompted by attacks and advice from media allies, and polling data about his reelection chances, on top of advice from health officials.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In another abrupt shift of tone, President Donald Trump on Tuesday delivered his most somber assessment of the coronavirus crisis yet, warning that Americans faced a “very difficult” two weeks ahead as the death toll mounted. 

“I knew everything. I knew it could be horrible, I knew it could be maybe good,” Trump said. “I don’t want to be a negative person … We are going through the worst thing that the country has probably ever seen.”

According to Axios, the president’s seriousness came after he was presented with new data by his medical advisers showing that, even with strict social distancing measures in place, 240,000 Americans could die of the virus.

Deborah Birx, a top adviser on the coronavirus response team, also said that without the measures up to 2 million could die, Axios reported.

Trump’s dark shift in tone also came a day after a staunch media ally broke with the president and criticized his response to the crisis.

At Monday’s press conference Trump had made unfounded claims about the illness, touted unproven drugs, and handed the podium to a pillow-company executive who effusively praised his actions.

This drew scathing criticism from sports radio DJ Mike Francesca, usually a stalwart Trump supporter.

“[Hospitals] don’t have the supplies they need. So don’t give me the My Pillow guy doing a song and dance up here on a Monday afternoon when people are dying in Queens!” he said. “Get the stuff made! Get the stuff where it needs to go and get the boots on the ground. Treat this like the crisis it is.”

If Francesca’s remarks were also playing on Trump’s mind, it wouldn’t be the first time the remarks of a media ally had influenced the notoriously optics obsessed president’s response to the crisis. 

Trump only began to take the coronavirus crisis seriously in mid-March after seeing Fox News host Tucker Carlson break with his colleagues to deliver a grim warning about the likely devastation of the pandemic, The Washington Post reported last month.

Trump’s decision to push two unproven drugs — chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine — may also have been influenced by seeing Fox News hosts claiming that they may be effective as a form of treatment for COVID-19.

Previously, Trump had played down the likely impact of the virus, comparing it to the common flu, and hosts on the network had echoed the president’s complacent tone. 

On Tuesday, both The New York Times and The Washington Post reported that Trump’s public messaging was being guided not just by the advice of top US public-health experts, but by polls and data indicating that plans to prematurely lift lockdown measures could dent his chances of reelection in November. 


President Donald Trump walks past Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, as the president arrives for the daily coronavirus response briefing at the White House in Washington, DC, March 31, 2020.

Tom Brenner/Reuters

Trump has made no secret of his obsession with popular opinion about him, even as hundreds of people in the US and worldwide are lost daily to the disease.

On Sunday he tweeted a quote from a New York Times column that compared the ratings of his coronavirus press briefings to ratings for reality show “The Bachelor. “

“President Trump is a ratings hit. Since reviving the daily White House briefing Mr. Trump and his coronavirus updates have attracted an average audience of 8.5 million on cable news, roughly the viewership of the season finale of ‘The Bachelor.’ Numbers are continuing to rise…” reads the message. 

Throughout his career Trump has maintained an obsessive focus on his public profile, with his fame prior to his 2016 election peaking during his stunt as host of “The Apprentice.”

And even during America’s most urgent public-health crisis in decades, it’s an obsession apparently continuing to drive the president’s decisions and messages. 

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