Team Trump tries new spin: Biden lacks 'firsthand experience' with COVID-19

With Donald Trump hospitalized with COVID-19 as the 2020 campaign enters its final month, the president’s staffers have begun trotting out a new message to try to resurrect his flagging poll numbers: that catching the deadly disease is a sign of Trump’s strength — and that Joe Biden is hiding from it.

In a Monday interview with Fox News, Erin Perrine, the Trump campaign’s director of communications, was asked whether the president’s diagnosis would cause him to “change his messaging” if and when he resumes campaigning. In response, she implied former Vice President Joe Biden’s lack of “firsthand experience” with the coronavirus meant he was missing an important qualification.

“Well, firsthand experience is always going to change how someone is going to relate to something that’s been happening,” Perrine replied. “The president has coronavirus right now, he is battling it head-on as toughly as only President Trump can, and, listen, of course that’s going to change the way that he, he, he speaks of it because it will be a firsthand experience. But, you know, that experience, that experience of not only coronavirus, but of being president of the United States, that’s why you just see a different tone overall from him.”

U.S. President Donald Trump waves to supporters as he briefly rides by in the presidential motorcade in front of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he is being treated for coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S. October 4, 2020.  REUTERS/Cheriss May     TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
President Trump waves to supporters as he briefly rides by in front of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Sunday. (Reuters/Cheriss May TPX Images of the Day)

Pressed on why Trump has centered his campaign to date on issues such as “law and order” rather than the pandemic, which has so far killed at least 209,000 Americans, Perrine again went after Biden.

“He has talked about it all. And listen, he has experience as commander in chief, he has experience as a businessman, he has experience — now — fighting the coronavirus as an individual. Those firsthand experiences, Joe Biden, he doesn’t have those."

Perrine was not alone among Trump staffers trying to depict the president’s illness as an asset. During a Sunday interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Jason Miller, senior adviser to the Trump campaign, said Biden wore a face mask as a “prop.”

“This is a general-in-the-field-type moment that [Trump] couldn’t just stay upstairs, hidden in the Lincoln Bedroom or in the White House. He couldn’t stay hidden in his basement, saying, ‘I’m going to shut down forever,’” Miller said.

Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks to journalists before boarding his plane at a local airport in Wilmington, Delaware as he begins a one-day campaign trip to Florida on October 5, 2020. (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT / AFP) (Photo by ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP via Getty Images)
Democratic nominee Joe Biden speaks to journalists before boarding his plane in Wilmington, Del., on Monday. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

“I’d say that with regard to Joe Biden, I think too often he’s used the mask as a prop,” Miller said, adding, “But, also, we’ve seen with — with Joe Biden, I mean — we can’t all just stay in our basement for the rest of our lives. We have to get out there and live our lives and take this on, develop the vaccine, develop more therapeutics, and defeat it.”

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released Sunday found that 59 percent of Americans believe Trump has not been “wearing a mask and social distancing properly” during the pandemic. Twenty percent of those surveyed said he had. Fifty-one percent of Americans said Trump could have avoided contracting COVID-19 if he had taken stricter precautions, while 18 percent said he would not have.

Trump has occasionally appeared in public with a face mask, often while touring factories, but has held numerous rallies and White House events without them, and most campaign aides and White House staffers have done the same. At least a dozen people, including three Republican senators, who have been in contact with him over the past 10 days have tested positive for the virus, and one, former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, is also hospitalized.

Trump himself sought to spin his illness as having given him insight on the virus.

“It’s been a very interesting journey. I learned a lot about COVID,” Trump said on Sunday. “I learned it by really going to school, this is the real school, this isn’t the ‘Let’s read the book’ school, and I get it, and I understand it.”

Moments later, however, Trump, who is still considered contagious, startled health experts by departing his suite at Walter Reed and getting into an SUV with a security detail to wave to a small number of supporters gathered outside the hospital.


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