“How is it playing?” the president quizzed several advisers and senior aides since Friday, polling them on their thoughts on how his diagnosis was being covered in the press.
He also was scheming. And at the top of his mind, according to three people with knowledge of his private comments, was how to reverse the damage that his campaign may be enduring by him being off the trail. Trump assured confidants that he would be back soon, though he wasn’t sure if he could commit to doing so in the coming week. And he previewed what is set to become the latest of many 2020 messaging reboots in the past few months.
The president repeatedly claimed that once he recovers from the coronavirus—for which first lady Melania Trump, his campaign manager, debate sparing partner, press secretary, and other aides also tested positive—he’ll be able to present himself as a conqueror of it, both personally and politically.
The notion might seem far-fetched, considering the poor marks Trump’s received for his handling of the pandemic. But according to the knowledgeable sources, the president insisted that this would be a campaign asset, as he’d be able to say “I know what people are going through,” one of the sources recounted him saying. Allies argued that this could help frame Trump as both resilient and empathetic, which could come in handy in a race where polling shows a wide empathy gap between him and former Vice President Joe Biden.