WASHINGTON — The coronavirus crept into the heart of the West Wing this month, with White House staffers testing positive, the vice president and top officials starting to wear masks and the country's top public health officials going into self-quarantine.
But with President Donald Trump eager to put the crisis behind him, a familiar pre-pandemic routine has made an unlikely return: speeches in 2020 battleground states.
Traveling Thursday to Allentown, Pennsylvania, to tour a medical equipment distribution center, Trump took the stage to his familiar campaign rally soundtrack, addressing an audience dotted with red "Make America Great Again" hats.
Inside the venue, Trump again compared the new crowd spacing unfavorably to that at pre-pandemic rallies. "We like it the old way a little bit better," he said. "And we will be back to that soon, I really believe."
It was the second time in as many weeks that Trump had traveled to a state where he faces a tight race with former Vice President Joe Biden, using the power of the presidency to start hitting the unofficial campaign trail as he enters the next stage of campaigning during the coronavirus. Biden, meanwhile, has been confined to campaigning from a home studio.
Trump is moving back onto the trail as the coronavirus has hit home. Following positive test results for the president's personal valet and the vice president's spokesperson, the White House this week began requiring all staffers to wear masks when entering and moving about the West Wing. Trump wasn't seen wearing a mask in Pennsylvania, although several administration officials sported them as they traveled on Air Force One with him.
Since his last rally in March, Trump had turned to his daily coronavirus briefings as a substitute, using the televised occasions to attack his adversaries, spar with reporters and shift the focus to issues like immigration. But advisers told the president that the freewheeling hourslong events were doing more harm than help.
After a news conference spiraled last month into the president's musing about whether injecting disinfectant could be a cure, aides were able to persuade Trump to scale back and start traveling across the country, instead, to give the image of a commander-in-chief leading the country through a crisis.
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