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March 31, 2020, 8:35 a.m. EDT

Trump’s daily televised coronavirus briefings are campaign events, replacing his raucous rallies

The Rose Garden strategy seems to be working for the president — for now

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By Joshua Spivak

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The fact that Trump has repeatedly fought with the press corp and even made an apparent sarcastic comment about Sen.Mitt Romney’s self-isolation are clearly similar to his behavior at his rallies. But that is not all that is seen.

Appearance of leadership

At the briefing, Trump surrounds himself with a full team of his choosing, many of whom are called on to provide fulsome praise for Trump’s actions. What viewers see is not necessarily just the details, but the picture of Trump standing around and leading.

Chuck Todd, host of Meet the Press, has noted that Trump watches videos of himself without the sound, in order to focus on the image.

With these briefings, Trump is taking that idea, one that is behind the Rose Garden approach, to the next level. TV viewers and people who just scan the stories will take their cues from the purely visual moments in front of a team, rather than any spoken comments. The lasting image of each of these press briefings may be Trump leading a large group of officials taking charge of the event.

So far, this strategy has worked well for Trump. While the administration has come under withering criticism for playing down the danger of the coronavirus and for its inability to settle on a strategy, polls have suggested that a majority of voters view Trump as being an effective leader in the coronavirus battle — numbers that are significantly higher than his re-election polls.

Part of this may be the general rallying-round-the-flag that a president normally sees in a moment of crisis, but it is also clear that the strategy of appearing to be leading the team is what helps boost his numbers.

This may wane, especially with the potential of a wider outbreak of the virus, the impact of a sustained recession, and the election so far away, but for Democrats and Joe Biden, they should take note of Trump’s willingness to finally operate along traditional lines.

Joshua Spivak is a senior fellow at the Hugh L. Carey Institute for Government Reform at Wagner College. He writes the Recall Elections Blog.

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