Coronavirus, reelection squeeze Trump from two sides
Under pressure on one side from an economy cratered by coronavirus and on the other by his crumbling reelection campaign, President Donald Trump is struggling to deliver Americans a clear message.
After having finally gone all in on the strategy of social distancing to halt the pandemic, regardless of economic impact, Trump signaled support for a potential rolling back of quarantines within days.
Next week, "WE WILL MAKE A DECISION AS TO WHICH WAY WE WANT TO GO!" he said in an all-caps tweet late Sunday, then retweeted Monday.
With medical supplies still facing chaos and Congress failing in a first attempt Sunday to pass a nearly $2 trillion economic bailout package, Trump's latest shift added to the sense that the world's richest country is desperately looking for a way forward.
Health experts say the pandemic is entering a new, worsening phase. But officials around the country are crying out for leadership.
"We're all building the airplane as we fly it right now," Michigan's governor, Gretchen Whitmer, told ABC television on Sunday. "It would be nice to have a national strategy."
And Trump's response on Twitter to critical governors was hardly reassuring.
They "shouldn't be blaming the Federal Government for their own shortcomings," he said.
- Whiplash -
Never a professional politician, Trump is a leader who brought to the Oval Office the instincts and habits of a hard-charging real estate magnate.
The problem during the coronavirus outbreak is that for the first time in his presidency, Trump is faced by something he has little power to influence, let alone buy or bully into compliance.
Trump calls the virus "the invisible enemy."
The result has been a confusing, whiplash-inducing series of position changes.
Early on, Trump began by brushing off the pandemic only later to rebrand it a war and himself a "wartime president."
He also at first praised China's handling of the outbreak -- repeatedly -- before switching to blaming Beijing for the "Chinese virus."
Late Sunday, he sounded like a unifier, telling Americans "who are feeling alone and isolated" that "we are all joined together as one people."
By Monday, though, he was back on Twitter bashing the "Radical Left" and connecting the virus crisis to his hardline policies on stopping illegal immigration.
- ELECTION TIME BOMB -
Ticking under the surface of the entire health, financial and political mess is the time bomb of the presidential election.
Health officials aren't clear on how long the novel coronavirus will remain a mass danger or whether it will dissipate, only to return after the summer.
Economists also are not in agreement on just how long and deep the damage from effectively closing down the US economy will run.
What's set in stone is election day, November 3, and Trump's bid to win another term -- likely against Democrat Joe Biden.
The coronavirus and ensuing quarantine measures have swept away Trump's "Make America Great Again" rallies, the heart of his political machine. And the financial impact has destroyed one of his platform's central tenets -- historic stock market highs and unemployment lows.
Wall Street is experiencing daily bloodbaths, with the Dow Jones now lower than when Trump took office, and unemployment could skyrocket if businesses are slow to get back on their feet.
Conservatives are asking increasingly at what point the drastic anti-coronavirus measures cause more harm than good. And it's not only voices on the right.
"It is unsustainable to run this state, to run this country with the economy closed down," New York state governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, said Monday.
At the same time, the nation's top doctor, Surgeon General Jerome Adams, is among those warning that social distancing and self-quarantine should be even stricter.
"Too many people are waiting too long" to comply, he told CBS television Monday. "Things are going to get worse before they get better and we really need everyone to understand this is serious."
Trump, caught between having to run for reelection, stopping a pandemic, and reigniting the world's biggest economy, is listening to all sides -- and still trying to figure out which way to go.