Eager to move past health and economic crises, Trump tries to reinvent political playbook

He hopes to start getting back to 'normal' by Easter, despite experts' warnings.

March 26, 2020, 4:15 PM

President Donald Trump finds himself in uncharted political waters as he stares down the biggest challenge of his presidency -- a global pandemic that is simultaneously exposing flaws in the federal government’s disaster preparedness and response capabilities, while simultaneously wreaking havoc on an economy key to his reelection chances.

Eager to move past the economic crisis brought on by the public health one, he has charted out an optimistic Easter Sunday timeline to “reopen” the country, or at least large sections of it, for 'normal' business -- despite health experts warning there is no evidence the virus's spread will have abated by then.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump takes a question during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus at the White House, on March 20, 2020, in Washington.
President Donald Trump takes a question during the daily briefing on the novel coronavirus at the White House, on March 20, 2020, in Washington.
Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

"I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” the president declared Tuesday. “I just thought it was a beautiful time. It would be a beautiful time, a beautiful timeline. It’s a great day."

Tune into ABC at 1 p.m. ET and ABC News Live at 4 p.m. ET every weekday for special coverage of the novel coronavirus with the full ABC News team, including the latest news, context and analysis.

But while the president has found ways to bend the mechanics of the federal government to his will in the past, the president is coming up against the reality that pandemics don’t operate on political timelines.

"You've got to understand that you don't make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the president’s coronavirus task force, said on CNN Wednesday night.

Fauci said the president’s health adviser had a conversation with the president Tuesday and explained the need to be “really very flexible.”

“You can look at a date, but you got to be very flexible. And on a literally day-by-day and week-by-week basis, you need to evaluate the feasibility of what you’re trying to do,” Fauci said.

The president has since moderated his Easter goal somewhat, now saying there will be a “recommendation” by or before Easter.

PHOTO: A sign is seen in the window of a clothing store closed due to the novel coronavirus outbreak in Washington, D.C., on March 18, 2020.
A sign is seen in the window of a clothing store closed due to the novel coronavirus outbreak in Washington, D.C., on March 18, 2020.
Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

Even as the president pledges to listen to his health experts, he is listening to his economic advisers in the other ear, while keeping eye on the instability in the stock market and the record-breaking 3.2 million weekly jobless claims reported Thursday.

The tug-of-war between the public health and economic concerns was on display in Wednesday’s press briefing, with the president following up on a promise not to “do anything rash or hastily” by expressing concern at the shuttered state of the economy.

“But the country wants to get back to work,” Trump said. “Our country was built to get back to work. We don't have the -- a country where they say, ‘Hey, let's close it down for two years.; We can’t do that. It's not our country.”

The president has struggled to apply his usual political playbook to a pandemic immune to his typical name-calling and attempts to distract.

Instead, he has tried to paint himself as the hero who wants Americans to return to work and the media as the evil force trying to prevent the economy from thriving.

"The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success," he tweeted on Wednesday. "The real people want to get back to work ASAP."

PHOTO: President Donald Trump debates with NBC News White House Correspondent Peter Alexander during a news briefing on the latest development of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. at the White House, March 20, 2020, in Washington.
President Donald Trump debates with NBC News White House Correspondent Peter Alexander during a news briefing on the latest development of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. at the White House, March 20, 2020, in Washington. Trump called NBC News correspondent Peter Alexander a “terrible reporter” during the news briefing for asking what he would say to Americans who are scared about the coronavirus.
Alex Wong/Getty Images

In reality, governors and local officials nationwide have called the shots, closing schools, non-essential businesses and more for weeks despite Trump signaling his opposition to a longer-term shutdown.

With campaign rallies cancelled and social distancing in force, the president has not left the White House in 16 days, other than a brief visit to the Washington headquarters of the Federal Emergency Management Agency last week.

To fill the void and to stay in the spotlight, Trump has appeared before the press every day for the last two weeks, almost every time in the White House briefing room.

Surrounded by obsequious deputies and often uncomfortable-looking public health experts, the president has turned the lengthy news conferences into rallies of a sort. While the medical experts do participate, the president takes center stage to spar with reporters, lob insults and make evidence-challenged claims.

But with critics saying he is spreading misinformation and being overtly political, some television networks have stopped airing the entire briefings live, leading the White House to vent publicly.

ABC News' Karen Travers contributed to this report.

What to know about coronavirus:

Related Topics

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events