Report: Trump doesn't want to wear a mask because it'd signal that he's preoccupied with health instead of the economy

Can’t blame him for not wanting to send the wrong message. Imagine if people got the idea that he prioritizes the lives of millions of frightened Americans over their employment status.


If voters start to believe that, next thing you know they might just want to reelect him.

He did wear a mask briefly during his visit to the Honeywell plant in Arizona (where some smart aleck played “Live and Let Die” over the loudspeaker), or so he says. He wore it backstage, he told reporters, then took it off. If the AP is right, we probably won’t have many opportunities to see him sporting one:

Trump has told advisers that he believes wearing one would “send the wrong message,” according to one administration and two campaign officials not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations. The president said doing so would make it seem like he is preoccupied with health instead of focused on reopening the nation’s economy — which his aides believe is the key to his reelection chances.

Moreover, Trump, who is known to be especially cognizant of his appearance on television, has also told confidants that he fears he would look ridiculous in a mask and the image would appear in negative ads.

“It’s a vanity thing, I guess, with him,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said of Trump on MSNBC. “You’d think, as the president of the United States, you would have the confidence to honor the guidance he’s giving the country.”

“Some Republican allies have asked Trump’s campaign how it would be viewed by the White House if they were spotted wearing a mask,” the AP continues, which is a spectacular insight into the Republican mindset in the Trump era. Do I protect myself and the people around me by taking the most basic precautions against infection? Or do I go ahead and risk spreading this plague because the White House thinks basic precautions undermine its “shop ’til you die” message?


Trump is right that Democrats would use photos of him in a mask against him, but they’re going to attack him viciously on aspects of his coronavirus response whether or not that photo is available to them. If he’s eschewing a mask for that reason, he might as well go ahead and cancel the “MAGA masks” his campaign is planning. And he might, per the AP. Apparently, those are still awaiting his approval.

A new poll from Change Research confirms that Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to wear masks, but maybe not as much as you think. Nearly half support the idea and much more than half support more aggressive forms of social distancing with bigger economic implications:

On the other hand, Republicans’ willingness to wear masks isn’t growing over time. A Gallup poll from mid-April found 48 percent saying they wore a mask outside the home in the preceding seven days. Now it’s 45 percent. Could that be due to false impressions that the epidemic is slowing down? Maybe not: In the Gallup poll, just 75 percent of Democrats admitted to wearing a mask. Their compliance has grown since then.

Nate Silver flagged this fascinating graph from a YouGov poll published two weeks ago. Most of the countries ahead of us on mask-wearing have had good outcomes lately in tamping down the contagion:

It feels weird to cite Italy and Spain for encouraging news on COVID-19 but compare their numbers to ours recently in the first graph here. Their curves look like New York’s (where mask-wearing is surely also more common than it is in most U.S. states), with a distinct downward sloping right side. America’s curve doesn’t look like that. Are masks the secret to knocking the transmission rate below 1? If so, and if we can get more people to use them, maybe reopening early will be less risky than experts fear.


Here’s one more graph for you, which would make Trump especially upset.

That’s bad in the abstract but it’s extra bad knowing that Obama’s VP will be on the ballot this fall.

I keep trying to understand Team Trump’s logic in believing that overtly prioritizing economic revival over a scrupulous focus on public safety is the key to electoral success, knowing how brutal Democrats will be this fall about highlighting the death toll. A recent survey of experts found consensus estimates at this point of 250,000 Americans dead by the end of the year, which would slightly exceed the White House’s own worst-case scenario with more death to come early in 2021. It’s one thing to see losses like that as president when you’re perceived as moving heaven and earth to try to prevent it, it’s another to see them when your core message is “get back to work.”

All I can think is that Trump’s campaign has concluded that they’re going to be hammered for the death toll no matter what it ends up being so they shouldn’t obsess about it. Not another American life could be lost after today and Democrats will still excoriate them for 70,000+ casualties. Slow-walking the economic part of the response to try to do more to prevent COVID deaths is thus a thankless task — from an electoral standpoint. Whereas if you go all-in on economic renewal as the death toll mounts, you can at least point to some improvement on jobs in November to counter the horror at how many have died. Morality has little or nothing to do with that calculation, but the current approach arguably gives Trump a better chance at winning than focusing on public health would.


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David Strom 10:00 AM | June 21, 2024