The Worst Photo-op Ever

Our American Evita

You thought the upside down bible photo-op was bad? It turns out that it was just a dress rehearsal for the awfulness to come.

Last night, we got the full cinematic roll-out of “The Orange Evita,” PRODUCED, DIRECTED, AND STARRED IN by DONALD J. TRUMP.

Donald Trump takes off his facemask as he arrives at the White House upon his return from Walter Reed Medical Center, where he underwent treatment for Covid-19, in Washington, DC, on October 5, 2020. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP)

It was a fiasco for the ages; a bizarre episode that Tim Miller calls “The Weirdest 90 Seconds in Presidential History.”

So we get a madman, his face pancaked under a 2mm coat of orange powder, jacked up on steroids, straining to breathe—and not caring a whit about those around him.

And I’ve got to hand it to him: Trump nails that image.

It also came at a moment when his presidency appeared to be coming apart at the seams.

Welcome to the Countdown Journal; There are 28 days until Election Day, and then another 78 days until the Inauguration.

We wake up to some stunning polls: a new CNN/SSRS poll finds Joe Biden leading Trump by 16 points — 57% to 41%. The poll “was conducted entirely after the first debate and mostly after the President's coronavirus infection was made public.” The survey is full of bad news for the president: “69% of Americans said they trusted little of what they heard from the White House about the President's health, with only 12% saying they trusted almost all of it.”

The CNN poll may well be an outlier, but it is consistent with a slew of other surveys showing a stable, and perhaps growing, Biden lead. The FiveThirtyEight average has Biden’s lead at 8.8%; the RealClearPolitics average now has Biden up by 9.2%.

This comes the day after the NYT/Siena poll found Biden leading by 8 points in Arizona and just days after the poll found Biden up in both Pennsylvania and Florida. A new Michigan poll has Biden opening up a 9 point lead there. And, weirdly enough, Trump’s team has pulled its ads out of Ohio and Iowa, even though the polls show a close race in both states. Reports CNN: “It'll be his third consecutive week without television ads in Iowa and Ohio.”

How bad are things out there for the Orange God King? We’re talking about Texas again.

Trump is still leading there, but the Biden folks just made a $6 million advertising buy for the last four weeks of the race in a state that should not be on anyone’s radar this late in the campaign. Here’s Dave Wasserman:

Okay, enough irrational exuberance. Let’s talk about last night.

The video production of his triumphant return to the White House was quintessentially Trumpian. All the power moves: the helicopter, the music, the pageantry, the balcony, the dramatic removal of the mask — all perfectly choreographed by a man famous for his finely honed instincts for entertainment.

But it all went sideways. I offered a quick theory last night:

Trump had a choice: he could have gone for the sympathy vote; he could have shown a flash of empathy. According to the NYT, some campaign staffers thought that if Trump recovered quickly “and then appeared sympathetic to the public in how he talked about his own experience and that of millions of other Americans, he could have something of a political reset.”

In TrumpWorld, though, empathy is for cucks, so he opted for STRENGTH instead. Or at least the video version.

But as he stood there, maskless, breathing heavily, and about to enter a White house ravaged by the pandemic, Trump didn’t look strong. He looked reckless. He looked sick. He looked like a man whose presidency was in the last stages of decadence.

Everything about his dramatic exit felt wrong. Trump insisted that he “gets it now,” but he quickly demonstrated that he doesn’t. He suggested that he may be immune to the disease, despite having actually contracted it. He urged people not to fear COVID-19, even as the death toll topped 210,000.

And he seemed preternaturally unaware of the optics of his personal “triumph.” As the AP’s Jonathan Lemire wrote, “as a patient at one of the nation’s finest medical facilities with treatment options available to very few, the president also reinforced that he has struggled to relate with everyday Americans, millions of whom have lost their jobs because of the coronavirus.”

Check this out:

His return will play well in the fluff community, but it seems unlikely that Trump’s narcissism will win him back the hearts and minds of the American electorate in the next four weeks.

Even before last night, two-thirds of Americans thought Trump had “handled the risk of coronavirus infection to others around him irresponsibly.”

He reinforced that image by removing the mask on his return to the White House. Earlier in the day, his spokesperson tested positive, and the pandemic is ripping through his staff. The president who claimed that only he could protect the nation, could not protect his own house, or himself.

Here’s the scene he returned to:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The West Wing is a ghost town. Staff members are scared of exposure. And the White House is now a treatment ward for not one — but two — COVID patients, including a president who has long taken the threat of the virus lightly.

Staffers appear to be both panicked and angry. Via Axios:

Reflecting widespread dismay among administration officials, a White House source told Axios' Alexi McCammond:

  • "It's insane that he would return to the White House and jeopardize his staff's health when we are still learning of new cases among senior staff. This place is a cesspool."

  • "He was so concerned with preventing embarrassing stories that he exposed thousands of his own staff and supporters to a deadly virus. He has kept us in the dark, and now our spouses and kids have to pay the price. It's just selfish."

Over the next few weeks, the situation is likely to get worse, especially as Trump continues to downplay the dangers of the virus. Even though his doctor says that he is not yet “out of the woods,” this morning, he reverted to the talking points that were popular 210K deaths ago.

Quick Takes

1. “Don’t Cry for Me…”

Make sure you read all of Tim’s piece on last night’s balcony photo-op.

The drama builds to one mammoth, labored breath. The type of breath you would take if you were a child who was about to enter into a competition in a swimming pool over who could last the longest underwater without drowning.

That heave gave him the stamina to move into a dramatic extended salute lasting 23 interminable seconds. He salutes with D-list caudillo energy, channeling an aging Pinochet or Trujillo in their last gasps of power. Throughout the salute he holds an aggressive glare. Then he steps back and looks deep into the distance. Fully embracing his posture as the leader of a death cult, Trump turns and enters the White House. Without a mask.

The coup de grâce (for whom, we won’t know for a couple weeks), is Trump moving into an extremely congested, spittle-filled soliloquy—straight to camera—about how our Dear Leader may well now be “immune” from the deadly virus that has killed 210,000 and which is currently inhabiting his lungs, and his White House.

The show must go on.

2. The Truth About Trump’s COVID Test Timeline

Because it’s all Tim Miller all the time around the Bulwark, check out this tick-tock that explains why the president is hiding his previous COVID tests and lying about what he knew and when.

The president’s doctors and White House spokespeople have refused to answer questions about the results of tests that supposedly took place between exposure to the virus and Thursday’s announcement that the president had been infected. Earlier today, Dr. Sean Conley laughed when asked and said, “everybody wants that.”

If “everyone wants” a piece of information that is easy to provide and which would reassure the country about the system in place to protect the president and his executive office, then there’s no good reason for the White House not to release it.

Unless the truth turns out to be problematic.

3. Where Does Joe Biden Go To Get His Apology?

ICYMI, JVL takes a quick tour of all of TrumpWorld’s gibes and mockery of Biden’s choice to wear a mask.

For the last half year Joe Biden has been both preaching and practicing a commonsense approach to safety and public health.

And for this, Biden was mocked by Donald Trump and his partisans.

I want to pause for a minute to remind you how stupid—aggressively, perniciously stupid—Trump and his enablers have been on this point.

Also in today’s Bulwark, Sarah Longwell argues that Biden's decision to pull negative ads was both good form and smart politics.

Three reasons:

(1) Fast-forward to the closing argument. Based on the hundreds of hours of focus groups I’ve done with Trump voters who rate the president as doing “a very bad job,” they are clear-eyed about Trump’s many deficiencies. They know why they shouldn’t vote for Trump. What they want to understand in order to make the switch is why they should vote for Biden. Despite his decades in Washington, Biden remains undefined for many voters. Putting more emphasis on helping voters understand why they should vote for him is the best way to make his closing argument to the remaining universe of undecideds.

(2) Joe is the White Hat. Pulling negative ads gives Biden buckets of positive earned media that help to cement what has been the central tenet of the campaign from the beginning: That Joe Biden is the good guy in the race…

(3) Non-state actors can still hammer Trump. There are hundreds of special interest groups (full disclosure: including my own group, Republican Voters Against Trump) which are perfectly willing to go after Trump’s record and behavior, hammer and tongs.

Cheap Shots

1. Kelly Clowns

If there is a more degrading tweet posted by a sitting member of the US Senate than this, I’d be interested in seeing it. @tedcruz and @LindseyGrahamSC don’t count.

2. Losing Drudge

3. Irony is Dead (Still)

Deep Thoughts

1. The Flaw in the 25th Amendment

Our resident constitutional scholar, Kim Wehle, writes in today’s Bulwark:

The Constitution is not self-executing. It is a piece of paper. It is only so good as it is enforced and respected. In the last few days, the American people have heard that Trump’s blood oxygen levels have dropped at least twice, that he was airlifted to the hospital from the White House, and that he has been given a range of drugs reserved for at-risk patients, including “an experimental antibody cocktail”; the drug remdesivir, which was granted authorization by the Food and Drug Administration on an emergency basis; a range of supplements; and dexamethasone, a steroid that decreases the body’s inflammatory reaction to the virus. (It is the inflammation that causes the horrific lung disease associated with COVID-19.) In rare cases, dexamethasone has been linked to “grandiose delusions, psychosis, delirium, and hallucinations.” There’s much more we don’t know.

If Trump were to succumb to delusions or psychosis due to dexamethasone, would the American public even know?