By Agence France-Presse
Donald Trump will wrap himself in the mantle of America’s arguably greatest president with a television extravaganza Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial meant to leave the coronavirus crisis behind and relaunch his election campaign.
The businessman Republican is doing poorly in most polls ahead of the November presidential contest against Democratic challenger Joe Biden, who remains shuttered in his Delaware home.
Trump faces criticism for his bruising, divisive style during a time of national calamity. He is also accused by some of botching the early response to the COVID-19 virus.
Worse, the previously booming US economy, which was seen as a golden ticket to his second term, is now in dire straits due to the nationwide lockdown.
But with officials saying the viral spread has begun to taper, Trump is itching to declare victory and return to the campaign trail.
That audacious shift begins Sunday at possibly the most hallowed monument in the country — the statue of Abraham Lincoln, who led the country through civil war, urged reconciliation, and was assassinated in his moment of triumph.
Trump, who calls himself a “wartime president” and the coronavirus an “invisible enemy,” will appear there for a two-hour Fox News “town hall,” taking questions from the usually friendly network’s hosts and from voters appearing by video.
The memorial is only just beyond the White House fences, but in the next few days, Trump will break months of self-quarantine with long-distance trips to the key electoral states of Arizona and Ohio.
It’s a play that will emphasize Trump’s massive visibility advantage over Biden and, the White House hopes, rewrite the public relations script after gaffes including the president’s suggestion that coronavirus patients ingest disinfectant.
Trump sought that new tone Sunday, using Biblical-style language on Twitter to recall the arrival of “a great and powerful Plague.”
“America rose from this death and destruction… and became greater than ever before!” he concluded.
– Greater than Lincoln? –
Lincoln gambled in 1861 that only war could preserve the United States by ending slavery and restoring the nation’s ideals of freedom. He won, becoming a national hero.
Retweeting a fan’s gushing endorsement of his policies toward African Americans, the president replied: “So true, although Honest Abe wasn’t bad.”
His self-declared greatness is questioned by many Americans.
FiveThirtyEight’s latest tracking poll showing only 43.4 percent approving Trump’s performance and 50.7 percent disapproving.
Trump even got in an online tussle with former president George W. Bush, after the fellow Republican posted a video pointedly filled with the kind of empathy and solidarity that many accuse the current White House occupant of failing to show.
Trump responded Sunday by complaining that Bush was “nowhere to be found” when he was going through impeachment in Congress last year.
Now, though, Trump wants voters to put behind them the tragic events of the last months and to focus on his promise of “spectacular” economic recovery.
The virus — which has killed more than 66,000 Americans — continues to inflict havoc against a background of mass unemployment, trillions of dollars in emergency government aid, and worries about a second viral wave after the summer.
But Trump insists the nightmare will end soon.
“We built the greatest economy the world has ever seen,” the president said last week. “And we’re going to do it again. And it’s not going to be that long, OK?”
– Fanning the flames –
Medical experts warn against a premature reopening.
But frustration among ordinary Americans whose livelihoods are under dire threat has opened a window for Trump’s populist message.
Tweeting that lockdown protesters should “LIBERATE” states and calling demonstrators in Michigan — who included armed and camouflaged militia members — “very good people,” he has turned the tension into a campaign battle.
While he pushes patriotic themes inside the country, Trump is also amping up criticism on China, where the virus originated, as a foreign opponent.
Beijing, he told Reuters last week, “will do anything they can” to stop his reelection — an accusation likely to be repeated often.