RNC praise for Trump’s COVID-19 response at odds with months of missteps: ANALYSIS

The president has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the virus.

August 25, 2020, 7:28 PM

Scattered throughout the first night of the Republican National Convention were rave reviews of President Donald Trump's response to the coronavirus pandemic: touting treatments, shutting down travel from China and rebounding the American economy.

But all the spin on the president's handling of the virus is in sharp contrast with reality.

An ABC News investigation in April showed that 3.4 million travelers entered the U.S. from several countries, including China, during the critical time period of December, January and February.

Six month later the U.S. now leads the world in COVID-19 deaths, but on Monday night there was no mention of the nearly 180,000 who have died from the virus.

"One leader took decisive action to save lives," says a narrator in a highly produced RNC video that praises Trump's signing of the CARES Act, his declaring a national emergency and dispatching PPE to states. The video also blames Democrats and the World Health Organization for diminishing the severity of the virus and uses praise from Democratic governors who thanked Trump for sending emergency supplies.

"From the very beginning, Democrats, the media and the World Health Organization got coronavirus wrong," the narrator says.

In early March, hospitals and front-line workers faced dramatic shortages of ventilators, gowns, masks, gloves, and other supplies to treat COVID-19 patients, which resulted in states competing for supplies since the federal government didn't initially coordinate the distribution.

In a statement to ABC News, RNC National Press Secretary Mandi Merritt reiterated what we heard on Monday night's program, pointing to Trump's shut down on travel from China, replenishing PPE and how Democratic governors praised the president's efforts.

"The facts tell a widely different story than what many Democrats and their mainstream media allies are portraying," Merritt said.

But it was Trump who throughout the pandemic has repeatedly downplayed the virus as a threat, attacked health experts on his own National Coronavirus Task Force, including both Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, and has continued to hold large in-person campaign events despite calls from local health officials not to.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump pumps his fist as he enters his first re-election campaign rally in several months in the midst of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 20, 2020.
President Donald Trump pumps his fist as he enters his first re-election campaign rally in several months in the midst of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 20, 2020.
Leah Millis/Reuters

Back in June, Trump held his now infamous campaign rally in Tulsa, which resulted in a massive staff shake-up of his campaign and contributed to the demotion of long-time campaign manager Brad Parscale.

The event itself was held even as Oklahoma was experiencing a rise in cases and as health officials pleaded with the president to reschedule until it was safe. Following the event, officials said the large in-person gathering likely contributed to a spike in cases in the area.

Trump campaign surrogate and former Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, who attended the event without a mask, died from the coronavirus after being admitted to the hospital less than two weeks after attending the event. A spokesperson for Cain released a statement when he was hospitalized on July 2 and said "there was no way of knowing for sure" how he contracted the virus.

The first coronavirus death in the U.S. was reported on Feb. 29, but Trump called it a "hoax" the night before during a campaign rally in South Carolina, and it wasn't until the U.S. death toll surpassed 4,000 in March that Trump admitted there would be a significant loss of life.

It was also in early March that the president claimed "anybody that needs" a coronavirus test could get one, calling the tests "perfect" and "beautiful, only to be corrected by his Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar that same week. He also claimed early on that widespread testing was "unnecessary."

Though the president shut down travel from China in January, Centers for Disease Control data shows that his ban on travel from Europe on March 13 would have been more effective had it come earlier, and that the coronavirus had already spread to New York City by the time it was enacted.

Over the course of the pandemic, Trump has downplayed the severity of the virus, saying it will "go away" or "disappear" and has suggested the idea of injecting disinfectant or using sunlight to treat COVID-19. He has also sent mixed messages on whether to use masks.

It was not until Trump restarted his coronavirus task force briefings in July, months into the pandemic, that the president finally encouraged Americans to wear face coverings, saying "they have an impact." Those words came days after he was first seen in public wearing a mask during a visit to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

On Monday night Trump also appeared in a video with front-line workers in the East Room of the White House in which nobody wore masks and there was little social distancing, as the president repeatedly turned the conversation toward what he's done to address coronavirus.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump holds a pizza during a visit to Arcaro and Genell restaurant after speaking at a campaign event, Aug. 20, 2020, in Old Forge, Pa.
President Donald Trump holds a pizza during a visit to Arcaro and Genell restaurant after speaking at a campaign event, Aug. 20, 2020, in Old Forge, Pa.
Evan Vucci/AP

The coronavirus pandemic has upended the traditional style of campaigning during an election year, forcing Trump to refrain from hosting large-scale rallies in packed stadiums. Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has taken to virtual campaigning from his home in Delaware.

"I'm speaking from an auditorium emptier than Joe Biden's daily schedule," Rep. Matt Gaetz said during his RNC speech, ridiculing Biden for not holding in-person events amid a pandemic.

As Democrats hosted their convention last week, Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were campaigning on the ground in the critical battleground states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Arizona and Pennsylvania.

While the Trump campaign didn't label the events "rallies," they featured the look, feel and energy of Trump's MAGA rallies of the past. Temperature checks were taken, hand sanitizer made available and masks were distributed, though supporters were only "encouraged" to wear them, and there was little to no social distancing among the crowds.

The lack of enforcement of health protocols is in complete contradiction to the messaging from Trump, Pence, who heads the coronavirus task force, and top health officials, who have said Americans need to wear masks, avoid crowds and social distance to help curb coronavirus infections.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Wittman Airport, Aug. 17, 2020, in Oshkosh, Wis.
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Wittman Airport, Aug. 17, 2020, in Oshkosh, Wis.
Evan Vucci/AP

Trump supporters who ABC News spoke to at events last week stand by the president and his response to the pandemic and support his decision to continue in-person campaigning.

Nichole Gerard, 40, said the pandemic is not "that big of a deal" and defended the president against critics who claim he acted too slowly in responding to the virus.

"Given the information he had, I think that he did a great job. And I think right now it's really politicized, the whole pandemic, and the severity of it. I don't -- I don't think it's that big of a deal," she said.

But while Trump's coronavirus response may still play well with his base, most Americans disapprove of the how the president has dealt with it.

Nearly 60% of Americans disapprove specifically of the president's handling of the pandemic with fewer than three months until Election Day, according to a recent ABC News/Washington Post poll, and just 14% say the pandemic is completely or mostly under control.

Even some of the president's own supporters admit Trump stumbled in handling the coronavirus.

Dennis Orseske, a Trump campaign volunteer who worked at the president's Oshkosh, Wisconsin, event last week, told ABC News that while he continues to support Trump, the president has made mistakes in his response to coronavirus.

"As far as coronavirus goes, yes, we all make mistakes and it's something new for all of us is doing the best you can," Orseske said, talking through his mask at the event and declining to go into specifics.

But none of that hindsight has made it into the talking points at the RNC.

In a statement to ABC News, Trump Campaign Communications Director Tim Murtaugh said the president has been "out front and leading the nation in the fight against the coronavirus," pointing to his restriction on travel into the U.S. from China and Europe and his efforts to produce PPE.

"President Trump launched an unprecedented national effort, engaging both the government and private sector, in order to produce the equipment necessary to protect Americans and enable health care workers to do their jobs," Murtaugh said, adding that Trump built up an "unprecedented testing strategy and leads the world in tests performed."

"This is in contrast to Joe Biden's approach, which has been to do nothing but criticize, oppose, and suggest things the president has already been doing."

The president's team knows perception of his handling of the coronavirus will weigh heavily on the minds of voters on Nov. 3. Speakers for the remaining days of the RNC will likely continue to portray Trump's response in a positive light and make his approach seem like the best way to rebound an economy after a historic blow. But that doesn't make it true.

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