Trump continued to refer to the disease as “the China virus,” and he later said it “should have never been allowed to escape China.” At another point, he seemed concerned that White House security guards might be more prone to spreading the virus than white-collar employees. And, OK, there was also the moment when he offered well wishes to Ghislaine Maxwell, the accused co-conspirator of Trump’s disgraced former friend Jeffrey Epstein.
But otherwise, the president spoke in relatively measured tones, promising to “shield the vulnerable” while offering guarantees of international cooperation. “The relationship with other countries has been very strong, we’re all working together,” he said.
Trump departed from his typical habit of insisting the virus was entirely under control, acknowledging that there were “things that we can do better on” and saying: “It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better. Something I don’t like saying about things, but that’s the way it is.”
And rather than letting the event roll on for over an hour, jousting with reporters and lobbing insults at them as he often did in the spring, Trump took only a few questions and wrapped things up before the half-hour mark.
When asked about his recent reversal on mask-wearing, he said: “I’m getting used to the mask. The reason is, think about patriotism. Maybe it is. It helps.”
A major caveat to all of this: Trump has briefly moderated his tone many times in the past, only to fall back into old habits.
But at least for the moment, it seems that he may have finally decided that, after months of antagonistically questioning health experts and downplaying the virus’s threat, he needs a course correction — at least in terms of optics, if not policy. Polling certainly suggests as much: Since the onset of the pandemic, wide majorities of Americans have said they want to emphasize caution, and since the spring, Trump’s average approval rating on handling the virus has dropped from being about even to nearly 20 percentage points in the red.