It wasn’t supposed to be this difficult.
A booming economy and stable approval ratings led President Trump to believe that he had a second term all but sewed up. “I was sailing to an easy reelection,” he said Tuesday morning. “Now, it's a fight.”
What changed is obvious: a pandemic that has killed half a million people around the world and cratered markets throughout the globe. Who is to blame? According to Trump, China.
During a wide-ranging Oval Office interview with RealClearPolitics, the president accused the Chinese government of “absolutely” using the chaos created by the coronavirus to hamstring his campaign and return former Vice President Joe Biden to the White House.
“China is involved in this election. You know, people keep talking about Russia. The problem is China -- a much, much bigger kind of problem,” he said. The regime’s animus, as the president sees it, stems from ongoing trade disputes between the two nations: “China doesn't want to see me get in because I've taken in billions of dollars from China.”
“We were going up, and they were going down, and all of a sudden, we get hit with the China virus,” he said.
Scientists continue to investigate the origins of the deadly pathogen, which was first identified officially by Beijing in the Wuhan province in January. A Harvard Medical School study later suggested that the disease may have been spread as early as August, leading many to accuse the Chinese government of attempting to cover up its origin and severity. American intelligence agencies have since investigated whether the virus originated in a government laboratory there, though virologists have not come to a consensus.
The president did not offer further details. He did not rule out that China acted deliberately, either. “There is always a possibility,” he said. “Probably not, but there's always a possibility—maybe more substantial than people think.”
The virus continues to make its way throughout the United States, surging recently in the South.
“We are still knee-deep in the first wave of this,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a video streamed Monday. “I would say, this would not be considered a wave. It was a surge, or a resurgence of infections superimposed upon a baseline ... that really never got down to where we wanted to go.”
The virus has even infected some of those close to the president, including Kimberly Guilfoyle, partner of Trump’s eldest son and a top official on his reelection campaign. As a precaution in the past, Trump has taken the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine. “No, I’m not back on it,” he told RCP before adding that “I had taken it for two weeks; if I thought I had a problem, I would take it again.”
Some have criticized the president for touting the drug as a possible treatment for COVID-19, and the World Health Organization has canceled clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine. But Trump was pleased with a new study from the Henry Ford Medical Group that found the medication lowered the death rate in infected patients significantly. That study analyzed 2,541 patients hospitalized between March 10 and May 2, finding that 13% treated with the drug died compared to 26.4% not treated with it. According to the Ford report, none of the patients experienced serious heart abnormalities, which is a possible side effect.
Skepticism of the drug, Trump said, amounted to “a political hit on me.” He added that early trials that found it ineffective or dangerous were a product of doctors prescribing the drug to patients who were “close to death and very ill.”
“Then, when it didn't work, they said, ‘Oh, it doesn't work; it caused the death.’ Well, the person was going to die anyway, within a short period of time,” the president said. The Ford study has renewed his confidence in hydroxychloroquine, though Trump was careful say again that choosing to take it is a decision that should be left up to an individual’s doctor.
“If anybody else recommended it, it would be fine,” he insisted. “When I recommend it, they tried to disparage it in order to disparage me.”