Trump Supporters Know Where to Turn in a Crisis: To Him
Lee Green, a 59-year-old who lives in the Florida retirement community of The Villages and leads the Jewish Conservatives Club there, said she typically gets her news from Facebook, where she is subscribed to updates from outlets like The Daily Wire and The Jerusalem Post. But on Wednesday she struggled to understand why, if the virus was indeed the equivalent of a “bad flu,” schools were closing and events were being canceled.
Now, she relies on the C.D.C. website for updates. “I don’t see them as political hacks,” she explained.
Ms. Green is confident in the C.D.C., in large part because she believes Mr. Trump is, too. Later in the week, after the president declared a national emergency over the pandemic, her confidence that Mr. Trump was leaning on experts to do what was best for Americans had only soared.
“I’m actually even more impressed after today’s press briefing,” she said on Friday, after the president spoke in the Rose Garden, with top health officials and CEOs. “I voted for Trump because he’s a problem solver. And initially he wanted to be super optimistic about everything, but when the experts told him this was a really big deal, he instantly took action.”
Mr. Trump and public health officials have often contradicted one another when speaking publicly about the virus. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testified before Congress on Thursday about the severity of the outbreak, a day after the president had assured people that the virus would “go away.”
But when many Americans consume their news in snippets, B-roll footage of the president speaking with agency heads in the Roosevelt Room can be enough to cement impressions of coordination, unity, transparency.
Voters said they were comforted watching the recent spate of televised briefings at the White House. They saw the president and vice president standing behind the podium, surrounded by heads of agencies — the sheer presence of the experts seeming to confirm that Mr. Trump was communicating their findings accurately.
“It’s more of a feeling than the actual data,” Mary Lou Drake, a Trump supporter from The Villages, said on Wednesday. “It’s a feeling of trust in these people that they’re working hard, they’re doing what they can, they’re not shielding information, and they’re putting out all the information they have at the moment.”
With four children ranging in age from preschool to sixth grade, Rachel Losey is lucky if she catches CBS radio in the morning and a Tucker Carlson segment at night. The 38-year-old stay-at-home mom, who lives in Battle Creek, Mich., feels that based on what she has heard, the president and his administration have things under control.
“I appreciate what Donald Trump is doing, saying, ‘Yeah, there’s a problem, we’re taking care of it, but don’t panic. It’s going to be OK, don’t freak out about it,’” she said.
That sense of calm, even levity, about the virus permeated places like Battle Creek late in the week, even as the first cases were confirmed in Michigan and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer declared a state of emergency.
“From what I can see, the president has surrounded himself with people whose main objective is to contain this without causing unnecessary worry,” said Ryan Leonard, a 49-year-old real estate agent who volunteers for the Calhoun County G.O.P.
The result, he added, is that beyond what he describes as “common-sense” measures like more frequent hand-washing, “people around here aren’t taking it all that seriously.”
Mr. Leonard said that his Facebook feed was mostly filled with jokes about the virus, such as an image of Hillary Clinton captioned, “If the coronavirus was a person …”
But while many Trump supporters have found a new regard for experts and expertise, their disdain for the media, and what they view as unfair treatment of Mr. Trump, is more trenchant than ever.
Mr. Leonard said on Thursday that he thought the severity of the virus was a media-spawned “hoax.”
“The opinion from the conservative channels is that the mainstream media is making a manufactured sort of crisis,” he said. “We haven’t contained the common flu, we haven’t contained the common cold, but since the president hasn’t contained this, he’s bad.”
“And you know, honestly, they lost the election, and then impeachment failed, all of these things,” Mr. Leonard added. “I think they’re just grasping at straws to try and make our president look incompetent when he’s the best president we’ve ever had.”
Indeed, as these Trump supporters see it, in the same way that the Mueller probe, impeachment or any other scandal in this administration has failed to bring down the president, coronavirus — stock-market free falls and all — will seem a distant memory by November.
That feeling persists among some voters even as Mr. Trump’s recent actions, such as declaring a national state of emergency, seem to signal that his administration views the pandemic as more than a bad flu. Yet some of his supporters remain firm that the president’s opponents are using the outbreak for their gain.
On Tuesday, a day before the World Health Organization declared the new coronavirus a global pandemic, Mark Hammond, a Republican from La Plata, Md., logged into Facebook and marked himself “safe from whatever it is the media wants me to be afraid of today.”
“It’s a scare tactic,” he said, of media coverage of the crisis. “Altogether it’s part of a Democratic long game.”
Mr. Hammond, who has a home remodeling company and runs a Facebook group called “Patriots Against Impeachment,” said he attended this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference outside Washington, D.C., where an attendee tested positive for the virus. When asked if he was worried about becoming infected or about the pandemic generally, Mr. Hammond was clear: “110 percent, no.”
“I have not changed one thing in my daily life,” he said, adding that for the past decade he has kept a “ready bag” and six months’ worth of supplies on hand, just in case an emergency arises.
For many Trump supporters, this moment is unsettling — though not linked, in their mind, to the president himself.
Jeff Schumacher, a 42-year-old realtor, lives in suburban Seattle, so far one of the areas in the nation hardest hit by the virus. He is juggling his work and his three children being at home after schools closed, and is watching supplies dwindle in stores near his home in Everett.
He voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 and plans to vote for him again. He thinks he is handling the outbreak better than other presidents of either party would have.
“He has a business approach perspective to his management,” Mr. Schumacher said. “This is a virus. This is not a Trump problem, it’s a world problem.”
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