As his disapproval numbers rise amid the coronavirus crisis, and as nearly two-thirds of Americans believe the pandemic will get worse, President Donald Trump appears to be shifting his position when it comes to wearing masks.
Trump has famously been adamant about not wearing facial coverings. In April, he defended not covering his face, suggesting that it would emasculate him in front of other dignitaries from around the world.
“I just don’t want to be doing — I don’t know, somehow sitting in the Oval Office behind that beautiful Resolute Desk, the great Resolute Desk, I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens. I don’t know, somehow, I don’t see it for myself,” he said at the time.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal published in June, Trump also said that he believed facial coverings were an affront to him politically, a sign of disapproval of his presidency from those wearing them.
Yet in spite of his long insistence against wearing masks, Trump appeared to have a change of heart on Wednesday. During a Fox Business interview, the president said, “I’m all for masks,” and added that he had “no problem” with wearing facial coverings in public. In fact, Trump said he thought it made him look like The Lone Ranger. However, the fictional character’s mask covers his eyes, not his mouth or nose, as is needed to prevent the transmission of coronavirus.
Trump also encouraged others to wear masks or facial coverings, a stark departure from previous marks. “If people feel good about it they should do it,” he said.
Those sentiments may come as a shock to those who have listened to the president in the past few months. During a tour of a Ford Motors facility earlier this year, for example, Trump did his best to avoid getting his picture taken while wearing a mask, quipping that he didn’t want to “give the press the pleasure” of seeing him with one on.
Trump’s refusal to wear a mask likely played a role in politicizing preventative measures. Many Americans have refused to wear masks themselves, with social media postings showcasing abhorrent behavior from some of those individuals, including videos of customers coughing on retail workers after being asked to wear masks. Polling also indicates that the issue is partisan, with Republicans less likely to wear masks than Democrats.
While it is encouraging to hear the president now supporting one of the most helpful measures in preventing the spread of the coronavirus, Trump’s shift on the issue might have more to do with reelection strategy than legitimate concern for public health. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll released this week shows that nearly half of all respondents (49 percent) say the president has done a “poor” job handling the coronavirus pandemic. And on who can handle the crisis better — Trump or his Democratic Party challenger, Joe Biden — Americans favor Biden by a margin of 14 percent. Indeed, Trump’s disapproval rating has slipped to 59 percent in the poll, likely in part due to his handling of the crisis.
Other polls show a striking difference between public opinion and many of Trump’s positions on coronavirus. An ABC News poll conducted late last month found that 89 percent of Americans had worn a mask in the preceding week. Meanwhile, 65 percent of Americans believe the pandemic is getting worse, not better, according to a Gallup poll. Trump contradicted that viewpoint weeks ago during a Fox Business interview, when he said he believes the virus is “going to sort of just disappear” — echoing similar sentiments he had at the beginning of the crisis in March.