Staying off the campaign trail isn’t an option for Trump

In some ways, it was like he had never been away.

After a week-long COVID-19 enforced absence, Donald Trump addressed a noisy and enthusiastic crowd, happily veering off-script and lambasting his political opponents. It was classic Trump.

But his Saturday appearance at the White House also tells the story of an altered reality in this year’s presidential race.

A plaster was clearly visible on Trump's right hand
Image:A plaster was clearly visible on Donald Trump’s right hand
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 10: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks from the White House balcony to a group of supporters on the South Lawn on October 10, 2020 in Washington, DC. The president is making his first in-person appearance after being cleared by his doctors following his diagnosis of COVID-19 on October 2. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Image:Hundreds turned out to watch the speech at the White House

The president seemed energetic during his 18-minute speech, adding weight to the claim he made on television the night before that he is pretty much back to normal.

Most of the few hundred in the crowd on the South Lawn did wear masks but ignored social distancing guidance. Trump, in a balcony style now dubbed ‘Covita’ in Washington, was certainly a fair distance away.

By the evening, his doctor had released a statement reporting that the president was “no longer considered a transmission risk to others” and that there was “no evidence of actively replicating virus”.

On Monday, he will be back to the aircraft-hangar rallies that had become a feature of this year’s unusual election campaign. He will appear in Orlando in Florida, an event that should have taken place on 1 October when he was instead in hospital.

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‘You’re the worst president America has ever had’

The wisdom of the president returning to in-person campaigning when he and so many of his circle have been infected has been widely questioned.

“What is wrong with the guy?” asked his rival Joe Biden ahead of Saturday’s event.

But there is an electoral imperative for Trump. He is behind in the polls, nationally and in some swing states, and he knows the tea leaves are not reading well for an incumbent president.

Staying off the campaign trail then, for a man who believes his personal magnetism is one of his greatest strengths, is simply not an option.

The doctors at the White House seem content to let him carry on.

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 10: U.S. President Donald Trump addresses a rally in support of law and order on the South Lawn of the White House on October 10, 2020 in Washington, DC. President Trump invited over two thousand guests to hear him speak just a week after he was hospitalized for COVID-19. (Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
Image:Donald Trump says he will get back on the campaign trail

He has already cost himself another crack at selling his vision in front of a national television audience by refusing to take part virtually in the second presidential debate. The chances are running out.

Of course, Hillary Clinton would be able to give you chapter and verse on not taking those opinion polls at face value but to Trump, a man who views the world as divided between winners and losers, the prospect of defeat is unthinkable.

So, he’ll travel to Florida, Pennsylvania and Iowa in the next few days and hope the faithful will show up in significant numbers.

He says he has won his battle with COVID-19. There is another battle on his mind now.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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