Humbled by a deadly virus, Trump presents a newly somber tone

News of China’s economic free fall came just days after the president and his team boasted about gains in U.S. markets following his declaration of a national emergency — during the Rose Garden ceremony last Friday at which Trump surrounded himself with corporate executives.

Up until Saturday, officials inside the White House Office of Legislative Affairs were “trying to project as much confidence” as possible in their conversations with the president, a tone that began to shift Sunday morning as more governors implemented lockdowns on non-essential businesses and ordered their residents to avoid gatherings of 50 people or more.

“It’s smart what he’s done. He’s made a decision to downplay expectations,” said a second person close to the White House after watching Trump’s appearance at the White House briefing Monday afternoon.

Another official noted that the new White House guidelines gave some governors political cover to call for curfews and closures that have been met with groans by some small businesses bearing the brunt of the new rules or eye-rolls from younger Americans who may be less susceptible to the physical damage of the virus.

“I think the media has to recognize why he was hired by the American people — he’s not going to be consoler-in-chief,” said Jason Miller, a senior adviser on Trump’s 2016 campaign and an unofficial adviser. “They want him to go and get it done. What he’s realized here from the markets to society … they react to big bold leadership.”

Fleischer said the president was able this time to be “reassuring and realistic.”

“When events are this big, this serious, and this scary, the president’s communications job is twofold: One, be reassuring. And two, be realistic. And those two reinforce each other. The more realistic a president is, the more a country will believe his reassurances.”

Still, Trump didn’t let go of his old approach completely.

When asked by a reporter Monday to rate his response on a scale of 1 to 10, the president answered in Trumpian fashion: “I’d rate it a 10. I think we’ve done a great job.”

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