If the speakers at this week’s convention provided a portrait of Trump’s presidency that didn’t always align with reality, the images of mask-less crowds gathered without social distancing helped reinforce it.
Combined with the repeated references to the coronavirus pandemic in the past tense — most notably by Trump’s chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow — the images protect a post-pandemic world, even as deaths mount. More than 3,600 Americans have died since the Republican National Convention started three days ago — more than died during the terror attacks on 9/11.
Unlike most Americans, Trump has access to an extensive testing regime that his aides say renders him the “most tested man in America.” Anyone who comes into close proximity with him receives one; on Thursday, that includes a sizable number of the more than 1,000 invited guests on the South Lawn for his speech.
The same was true, at least in part, for guests at the first lady’s speech in the Rose Garden and Vice President Mike Pence’s address at Fort McHenry in Baltimore. While neither the campaign nor the White House would provide specific details, at least some of the guests at those events were tested. Few wore masks.
The effect has been to provide Trump with the crowds he long desired for his convention. But it has also allowed him to project a reality that simply doesn’t exist for the rest of the country. Many states still ban large gatherings. Rapid testing is not available in many places, and wait times are long. The mask requirements that exist in many states would not permit the types of bare-faced events that Trump has convened.
How effective that is in convincing Americans that Trump has handled the virus well isn’t clear. Even a number of Republican senators are opting not to attend Trump’s acceptance speech at the White House, despite most receiving invitations to join the audience on the South Lawn.
People living through the outbreak are still feeling its effects, be it through closed businesses, struggles with childcare or just the daily inconveniences that have now become routine, like remembering to wear a mask. Images of the President going about his life as normal can’t change that reality.
"Here's what you have to understand about the nature of a pandemic: It's relentless. You can't stop it with a tweet. You can't create a distraction and hope it'll go away. It doesn't go away," Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris said in a prebuttal to Trump’s speech earlier Thursday.