Donald Trump will wrap himself in the mantle of America’s arguably greatest president with a television extravaganza Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial meant to leave the coronavirus crisis behind and relaunch his election campaign.
The businessman Republican is doing poorly in most polls ahead of the November presidential contest with his Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who remains shuttered in his Delaware home.
Trump faces criticism for his bruising, divisive style during a time of national calamity, and is accused by some of having botched the early response to the COVID-19 virus.
Worse, the previously booming US economy, which was seen as a golden ticket to his second term, is now in dire straits due to the nationwide lockdown.
But with officials saying the viral spread has begun to taper, Trump is itching to declare victory and get back on the campaign trail.
That audacious shift begins Sunday at possibly the most hallowed monument in the country — the statue of Abraham Lincoln, who led the country through civil war, urged reconciliation, and was assassinated in his moment of triumph.
Trump, who calls himself a “wartime president” and the coronavirus an “invisible enemy,” will appear there for a two-hour Fox News “town hall,” taking questions from the usually friendly network’s hosts and from voters appearing by video.
The memorial is only just beyond the White House fences, but in the next few days, Trump will break months of self-quarantine with long-distance trips to the key electoral states of Arizona and Ohio.
It’s a play that will emphasize Trump’s massive visibility advantage over Biden and, the White House hopes, rewrite the public relations script after gaffes including the president’s suggestion that coronavirus patients ingest disinfectant.
– Patriotic sales pitch –
Lincoln took the gamble in 1861 that only war could preserve the United States by ending slavery and restoring the nation’s ideals of freedom — and he won.
Trump often compares himself favorably to the 19th century national hero.
Retweeting a fan’s gushing endorsement Sunday of Trump as a great friend of African Americans, the president replied: “So true, although Honest Abe wasn’t bad. Thank you!”
Now Trump wants to extend that claim to great leadership by asking voters to put behind them the tragic events of the last months and to focus on his promise of “spectacular” economic recovery.
The virus — which has killed more than 66,000 Americans — continues to inflict havoc against a background of mass unemployment, trillions of dollars in emergency government aid, and worries about a second viral wave after the summer.
But Trump, tapping his salesman’s optimism, says the nightmare will end soon.
“We built the greatest economy the world has ever seen,” the president said last week. “And we’re going to do it again. And it’s not going to be that long, OK?”
To underline this patriotic self-confidence, he announced a series of flyovers by the military display team, the Blue Angels, including one over Washington, DC, on Saturday.
– Fanning the flames –
Despite Trump’s eagerness to get the economy — and his re-election hopes — moving, medical experts warn premature reopening could bring a disastrous resurgence.
On the other side, the president is pressured by many ordinary Americans whose livelihoods are under dire threat.
Faced with these conflicting tensions, he has increasingly sided with Republican leaders who advocate re-opening as quickly as possible.
As the decision on whether to reopen becomes ever more politicized, Trump has encouraged street protests against the lockdown.
Tweeting that protesters should “LIBERATE” states and calling demonstrators in Michigan — who included armed and camouflaged militia members — “very good people”, he is staking out electoral territory.
And while he pushes the patriotic themes inside the country, Trump is also amping up criticism on China, where the virus originated, as a foreign opponent.
Beijing, he told Reuters last week, “will do anything they can” to stop his reelection — an accusation likely to be repeated often.