Trump’s Moment Merges Defense of Virus Response, Economic Pitch
U.S. President Donald Trump, left, applauds as he arrives to greet U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Baltimore, U.S. (Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg)

Trump’s Moment Merges Defense of Virus Response, Economic Pitch

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Donald Trump will make his best case for re-election to a nation still reeling from the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday, closing the Republican National Convention with a speech defending his attempt to manage the crisis while arguing he’s the best steward of an economic recovery.

Trump will accept the Republican nomination for president from the South Lawn of the White House, an accommodation itself forced on him by the pandemic. His remarks will end a four-day convention that’s featured repeated denunciations of Democrats as radicals who seek to exploit the virus for political gain and snuff out the fledgling economic recovery.

The speech will serve in part as an answer to Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s searing indictment of the Trump administration’s response to the outbreak in his own nomination acceptance speech last week. And the president will look to position himself -- as he did during his 2016 convention -- as the lone person able to address the nation’s ills.

But Trump also wants voters thinking of issues beyond the 179,000 Americans killed by the virus so far, and is likely to echo the law-and-order nationalism offered by Vice President Mike Pence Wednesday night during his own nomination acceptance speech at Fort McHenry in Baltimore.

Pence’s remarks came as the nation was again roiled by racial unrest, this time by the case of Jacob Blake, a Black man in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who was repeatedly shot in the back by police. Professional basketball and baseball players refused to play on Wednesday over the episode, and two people were killed in a Black Lives Matter protest over the Blake shooting. An Illinois teenager whose social media accounts carried pro-Trump and pro-police imagery was arrested in that crime.

On Thursday, public attention was further diverted by Hurricane Laura, which made landfall on the U.S. Gulf Coast. The president’s campaign aides said he planned to proceed with the evening’s political festivities while continuing to monitor the path of the dangerous storm.

Pandemic Challenge

“President Trump is committed to deploying the full resources of the federal government to rescue those in distress, support those in the region affected, and restore disruptions to our communities and infrastructure,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.

And while Trump is likely to address both developments, the pandemic remains a central challenge for the president as he tries to resuscitate a bid for re-election that once revolved around the strength of the economy.

The president downplayed the risk posed by the new coronavirus before the U.S. outbreak blossomed into the largest in the world, has repeatedly insisted the pathogen will somehow disappear, and resisted public health measures including social distancing and wearing masks.

For months, he pushed federal health agencies to support the use of a malaria drug, hydroxychloroquine, that has not been shown to be effective against the virus.

But Trump is expected to argue that his administration should be applauded for increasing supplies of protective equipment and coronavirus tests, both of which were in perilously short supply for months after the pandemic took hold in the U.S.

He’ll boast of his administration’s push to manufacture ventilators, the supply of which now outpaces U.S. demand. And he has said he’ll tout the rapid development of vaccines and medical therapies to combat the virus.

Pence promised Wednesday that the U.S. would have a safe and effective vaccine by the end of the year; Trump’s opponents and some medical experts have expressed concern that the Food and Drug Administration is under political pressure to rush a shot to market.

“In our fight against the virus, we’ve launched this mobilization, and it’s the biggest since World War Two. Biggest and most successful, too,” Trump told supporters Monday in North Carolina. “You’ll be hearing that on Thursday night. I’m going to be talking about it because what we’ve done is incredible.”

A minority of Americans agree with him. About 62% of voters believe the struggle against the coronavirus is “going badly,” according to a CBS News poll released Sunday, while just 27% of Americans say things are going well overall. 65% of people surveyed in the poll said the country is worse off than it was four years ago.

Convention planners have sought to counter those perceptions all week. Trump appeared Monday night in a video with health care workers and first responders, and the party has repeatedly played clips of Democratic politicians downplaying the virus in the pandemic’s early days and thanking Trump for federal support.

On Tuesday, first lady Melania Trump began her prime-time convention speech by expressing sympathy for Americans who had lost loved ones to the virus, a more direct and genuine display of empathy than the president himself has offered.

Second-Term Agenda?

Trump has entrusted the success of the convention to two key long-time aides, Bill Stepien, who was on the 2016 campaign, and Max Miller, deputy campaign manager for presidential operations. Before joining the campaign, Miller was in charge of preparations in advance of Trump’s official travel.

While Trump’s top concern is persuading Americans that the pandemic has been better managed and more contained than they think, his advisers have indicated he’ll also look to outline a second-term agenda on Thursday. The president has struggled repeatedly in recent interviews to articulate any policy goals or ambitions if he’s re-elected, beyond further tax cuts.

On Sunday, his campaign released a 50-point “2nd Term Agenda” on its website.

“He will give a little bit of a look ahead of what he has in store as far as achieving more for the Americans, if the American people vote to re-elect him to a second term,” Trump campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh said in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday.

“He will definitely talk about the economy -- the greatness of the economy before it was interrupted by the global pandemic,” Murtaugh said.

In his speech, the president is also likely to try to build momentum for executive actions he’s hoping can help consolidate support in the final weeks before the election. That includes long-promised measures he’s said will overhaul the immigration system, improve health care and lower drug prices while preserving protections for pre-existing conditions, and confront China.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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