The Dow Jones Industrial average dipped nearly 1,000 points Friday as trading opened. The S&P 500 was on pace to show another big loss as US and global markets continued a worldwide sell off amid fears about the Coronavirus outbreak.
Donald Trump is struggling to prevent a total market meltdown that likely would trigger an election-year recession, undermining what he had intended as his top re-election sales pitch: a strong economy. (The other is socialist Democrats would wreck it and every American’s finances.) Yet, it is Mr Trump who has opted to make his presidency one never-ending insult-laden, victim-paying, rhetorical punch-throwing reality show. In short, the corner he finds himself in with the virus and the stock sell off is one he put himself in.
As the two most-watched American stock indexes continued to lose value, the president was tweeting about his political foes from the White House residence.
“To the people of South Carolina, Tom Steyer is a joke, laughed at by everyone, a total incompetent. He made money in coal, now he ‘hates’ coal. Did you see him fawning over Crazy Bernie? Has no chance, a loser for South Carolina, doesn’t deserve your vote!” he wrote about the billionaire-turned-Democratic presidential candidate, who has surprised political professionals with his standing in Palmetto State primary polls.
With 2,462 Coronavirus victims around the world dead, the leader of the free world then turned his anger on polls that show him losing to all the top Democratic presidential candidates.
“Worst Polls, just like in 2016 when they were so far off the mark, are the @FoxNews Polls. Why doesn’t Fox finally get a competent Polling Company?” he wrote, going after his preferred cable network even as its anchors and guests were busily defending his response to the virus outbreak. They had been doing so all morning during its morning show and late-morning program.
As markets continued their seeming free fall, the president touted the always-kind Rasmussen poll and again stated — without citing the source — that his approval rating is at 95 percent among Republican voters. (White House officials on Friday were unable to say which poll Mr Trump is citing in his frequent 95 percent tweets.)
Mr Trump has consistently touted the value of US stock indexes at political rallies and official White House events. He regularly tells an anecdote of an unnamed man whose spouse suddenly thinks he’s an investment “genius” because their retirement accounts now have more money — all because of his economic stewardship.
Where previous US presidents would have sought to breed calm among the public and convince Wall Street there’s no need to panic about the virus, Mr Trump did little of that this week.
The former reality television show host and executive producer instead tried to jack up the ratings for a pre-South Carolina presidential primary rally in North Charleston.
“Will be in the Great State of South Carolina tonight, 7:00 P.M., for a really BIG Rally. Best place to be is a Trump Rally. See you later!” he wrote Friday morning.
He played the role of victim. And he attacked. Because the core of his presidency is to attack all political foes and those he views as a threat — and, increasingly, those inside the government he feels has betrayed him or is disloyal.
“So, the Coronavirus, which started in China and spread to various countries throughout the world, but very slowly in the U.S. because President Trump closed our border, and ended flights, VERY EARLY, is now being blamed, by the Do Nothing Democrats, to be the fault of ‘Trump,'” he tweeted just after midnight.
“This is not about politics,” Larry Kudlow, Mr Trump’s top economic adviser, said Friday. “It’s unfortunate some people are politicizing this.”
Only that it was Mr Trump on Wednesday evening, during a rare White House news conference, who tried pinning blame for worry about the virus and the stock market drop on Democrats. And he did so without being led there by reporters.
“You mentioned the stock market earlier. To go back to that: To be clear, the Dow Jones dropped more than 2,000 points this week. Are you suggesting that that was overblown? Are financial markets overreacting here?” a reporter asked the president.
Mr Trump chose to bring up his political foes.
“I think the financial markets are very upset when they look at the Democrat candidates standing on that stage making fools out of themselves. And they say, ‘If we ever have a president like this… And there’s always a possibility,” he replied. “It’s an election. You know, who knows what happens, right? I think we’re going to win. I think we’re going to win by a lot.”
“But when they look at the statements made by the people standing — standing behind those podiums, I think that has a huge effect, yeah,” Mr Trump added.
This week has shown that the president may be fundamentally ill-equipped to sow a sense of calm, as he bows to his instincts to turn most issues into a fight with Democrats in a quest to sell his core supporters they are out to get him — and, by extension, them.
He failed to do so Thursday evening when he offered this assessment of the Coronavirus threat when speaking at a Black History Month event.
“It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle, it will disappear,” he said, spreading more confusion as he said the situation could “get worse before it gets better,” before saying the virus will “maybe go away.”
“We’ll see what happens,” Mr Trump said before uttering words previous presidents have sought to avoid: “Nobody really knows.”
As frequently happens when the president utters such statements, his senior aides dispatched the optimistic, smooth-talking Larry Kudlow to mop up the messaging mess.
“I still think long term investors should get very serious thought to coming back in or adding to their positions in the stock market,” Mr Kudlow told reporters at the White House.
He called the Trump administration’s “threat assessment” of the virus’s likely impact on US soil as “low,” and the state of the American economy as “fundamentally strong.”
But, even then, Mr Kudlow couldn’t help but sound a bit cheeky as he wrapped a Fox Business hit with anchor Stuart Varney in the James Brady Briefing Room: “Stocks are looking cheap to me, Stu.