• Tue. Feb 7th, 2023



Trump’s campaign understands the need to pay lip service to science, even as Trump ignores it

Miller tweeted a photo of the visit, too, with a simple caption: “Joe Biden is finished.” Such was the power, it seems, of Trump wearing that mask on that day.

Trump and his team have repeatedly claimed that he is “following the science” on the pandemic, science that suggests masks can reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus and are an essential tool, particularly in confined spaces. So it’s a bit hard to understand why Miller would then also tweet this.

It’s a bit hard to tell unless you enlarge the image, but that’s a crowd at a Trump rally in Henderson, Nev., on Sunday. The rally was held indoors — and few attendees are wearing masks.

That wasn’t true of the crowd standing behind Trump at the rally. While he spoke, they were uniformly outfitted in “MAGA” and “TRUMP” masks (though occasionally improperly worn), a field of supporters following the science. But outside the camera shot and during introductory speeches that were less likely to be carried on television, masks could only rarely be seen.

Miller’s job is to get Trump reelected, and that means balancing two competing needs. Trump needs to counter the perception that he’s not taking the pandemic seriously, something for which masks serve as an immediate visual signifier. But Trump also wants to insist that the pandemic is almost over and to create space for the substantial portion of his base that thinks wearing masks is somewhere between useless and dictatorial. So in televised shots, masks. Everywhere else, laissez faire.

It is, of course, not uncommon that those eager to reopen for business deploy outdated or superficial steps to demonstrate that they are taking things seriously. At the rally, for example, the campaign made masks available (though not mandatory), along with offering hand sanitizer and performing temperature checks. Neither of those latter two steps will do much to prevent the spread of the virus from pre- or asymptomatic carriers of the virus, which spreads (as Trump knew seven months ago) through the air. But it allows the campaign to claim that it was doing something, a claim coupled with the sardonic assertion that the rally constitutes a peaceful protest, so mask-wearing rules shouldn’t apply.

But it was nonetheless the case that the rally almost certainly posed a significant threat to the health of attendees. A study published by the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) evaluated the varying risk factors of transmission depending on mask use, social distancing and environment. The researchers produced a useful chart, showing the likelihood of transmission under different circumstances.

Trump’s rally in Nevada on Sunday falls under “high occupancy,” “indoors,” “no face coverings, contact for prolonged time,” and, for many attendees, “speaking” or “shouting.” It was, in other words, a high-risk event.

The state’s governor was unsparing in his assessment of it.

“Despite reports from his own White House, despite local officials in Southern and Northern Nevada reiterating to the venues the existing restrictions in State emergency directives,” Gov. Steve Sisolak (D) said in a statement, “tonight, the President of the United States is knowingly packing thousands of people into an indoor venue to hold a political rally.”

The president “came into our State and blatantly disregarded the emergency directives and tough choices made to fight this pandemic and begin reopening our economy,” the statement said, “by hosting an indoor gathering that’s categorized as ‘high risk’ according to his own CDC.”

Indeed, administration officials have expressed frustration at how the president’s campaign is handling the issue of masks.

“Imagine you were an alien who landed on planet Earth and you saw that our planet was afflicted by an infectious disease and that masks were an effective way to prevent the spread,” the director of the National Institutes of Health, Francis Collins, said in an interview on CNN last week. “And yet, when you went around, you saw some people not wearing them and some people wearing them, and you tried to figure out why. And it turned out, it was their political party.

“You would scratch your head and think, this is just not a planet that has much promise for the future,” he continued, “if something that is so straightforward can somehow get twisted into decision-making that really makes no sense.”

In an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Trump blamed Sisolak for the indoor event, claiming that the governor prohibited any other rally location, though that doesn’t appear to be the case. In the end, it was held at a manufacturing facility owned by a supporter of the president.

What’s noteworthy about the Trump campaign’s approach to the issue is that it seems almost certain to be unsuccessful. For all of the insistence that Trump (and not Biden) is following the recommendations of the experts, it takes very little peeling back of the facade to make clear the dubiousness of that claim. There will be photographs of Trump speaking in front of a field of masked faces — but quick contextualization pointing out that this was the exception.

And while Biden is consistently seen wearing a mask, Trump almost never does. That, in itself, gives away the game Miller is playing.

If masks are so important, why is Miller’s prominently displayed image of Trump wearing one a photograph taken two months ago?

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