Trump's battle with COVID could humanize him among swing voters, suburban women

"I most of all appreciate what's been said by the American people — by almost a bipartisan consensus of American people," President Trump said Saturday in a video from the hospital. "It's a beautiful thing to see. And I very much appreciate it, and I won't forget it, promise you that."

Updated: October 5, 2020 - 11:30am

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Trump's battle with COVID could humanize him among swing voters, suburban women

As President Trump continues his recovery from the coronavirus, his illness is fraught with political implications that could in the end serve as a humanizing, softening force for a president with a famously aggressive persona. 

Trump, in taped remarks posted Saturday evening from the presidential suite at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, said that since his diagnosis with COVID-19 late Thursday evening "the outpouring of love has been incredible." 

"Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it's having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome," popular author and professor Brené Brown has taught. "Vulnerability is not weakness; it's our greatest measure of courage."

In taped messages and social media posts, the president acknowledged he was ill — a vulnerability typically not seen from a man known around the world for projecting an aura of invincibility and indestructibility.

"I just want to be so thankful for all of the support I've seen, whether it's on television or reading about it," Trump said. "I most of all appreciate what's been said by the American people — by almost a bipartisan consensus of American people. It's a beautiful thing to see. And I very much appreciate it, and I won't forget it, promise you that."

This softening of personality — a gentle, grateful Trump speaking calmly at Walter Reed Hospital, in contrast with the combative, domineering Trump of Tuesday's debate — could help the president among swing voters, independents and suburban women, groups that have reported they might admire some of his policies but at times can't stomach his style.

After Trump announced his positive coronavirus test early Friday morning on Twitter, Democrats were quick to paint the president as someone who'd spent 2020 recklessly endangering himself and others — thereby crafting a narrative around the president's illness that both exploits and reinforces preexisting feelings about the president as self-centered, irresponsible, even out of control at times. 

"This is tragic, it's very sad," House Speaker Pelosi said in an MSNBC interview Friday. "But it also is something that, again, going into crowds, unmasked and all the rest, was sort of a brazen invitation for something like that to happen."

Trump's legendary self-confidence and pugnacity are, of course core traits of his public persona, a through-line stretching from his decades as a real estate tycoon through his years as a reality television star and continuing through his conquest of the political world. Trump's mantra that he'll "hit back 10 times harder" whenever he's struck first earned him the title of "the bodyguard of Western civilization" from supporter Charlie Kirk at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in August. 

However, during that same RNC event, speakers also shared stories of the human side of Trump, how he has personally supported cancer victims, pushes for criminal justice reform, elevates women and sees himself as fighting for the forgotten working class and rural America.

"From the day that I met him, he has only wanted to make this country the best it can be," first lady Melania Trump said in her RNC speech in the White House Rose Garden. "America is in his heart."

White House spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany spoke at the convention about Trump's personal care and support for her as she underwent a preventative double mastectomy after discovering she likely carried the gene for breast cancer.

Former senior advisor Kellyanne Conway touted Trump's long track record of elevating women to senior leadership roles, both during his time in the private sector and in his public service. Conway herself is the first American woman to serve as campaign manager of a victorious U.S. presidential campaign. 

"He confides in and consults us, respects our opinions and insists that we are on equal footing with the men," Conway said.

Conway's remarks also spotlighted Trump's battle against the opioid epidemic afflicting America.

“Rather than look the other way, President Trump stared directly at this drug 'crisis next door' and, through landmark, bipartisan legislation, has helped secure historic investments in surveillance, interdiction, education, prevention, treatment and recovery," Conway said.

"More than any president in my lifetime, he's acknowledged the importance of farmers and agriculture," said Cris Peterson, a dairy farmer who spoke at the RNC and said his business was aided by Trump's policies.

"Several of last night's speeches emphasized that President Trump can be warm and caring," wrote National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru. "Not being perceived as such is a common problem for Republicans, and it's especially pronounced for President Trump. Quinnipiac's poll last month had only 37 percent of the public agreeing that he cares about the average American, while 61 percent disagreed. (The public split 59–33 in Joe Biden's favor on that question.)"

In an interview Saturday on the Real America's Voice program "War Room: Pandemic," former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani said Trump's coronavirus illness showed the American people how much he was willing to face personal injury in order to continue to fight for finding a vaccine and garner needed medical supplies.

"I'd urge those people who haven't made up their minds: Isn't that what you want leading America, you want somebody who's a fighter?" Giuliani said. "Sure, he may get injured in the fight. This is an injury. He's gotten worse injuries from the Democrats, the kind of garbage they've done to him. But this is the kind of guy you want leading your country."

Giuliani on Twitter shared a video from Trump ally David Bossie with Trump supporters lining the streets outside Walter Reed.

 

"I think people don't just like Donald Trump, they love him," Giuliani continued. "I can't tell you how much more respect I have for President Trump, the way he's handled this. And he knew all along, he knew he had this risk all along. And it's unfortunate it had to happen. But I think something good can come out of it. I think the American people can see a side of him, the strength of his character."

 

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