Even as president, Mr. Trump has often appeared most comfortable in the role of back-seat driver, jeering his own government like a common bystander, insisting that someone really ought to do something about all this. (“When he has an opinion,” Mr. Pence said, “he is liable to share it.”)
The effect during a week like this one — as a public health crisis proceeds apace and unrest consumes Kenosha, Wis., after another police shooting of a Black man — is particularly jarring, all the more because Mr. Trump has also strained throughout the convention to display himself in various scenes of presidential busyness: issuing a pardon, meeting with freed hostages, presiding over a naturalization ceremony. In the process, Mr. Trump and his team have effectively ignored distinctions between campaign activity and official business — less line-blurring than ostensible law-violating — co-opting public resources for political gain.
Through it all, the intended takeaway has seemed clear: Mr. Trump is in control of the good but not responsible for the bad, worthy of praise for America’s successes and exoneration for its struggles.