Trump fixated on his own political fate as virus kills record number of Americans

BEN GITTLESON
·5 min read

A day after the United States' coronavirus daily death toll nearly surpassed the number killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, President Donald Trump remained out of sight -- fixated not on the raging pandemic but rather on his own political fate.

The president made no public appearances Friday, a day after the United States recorded 2,879 Americans deaths caused by COVID-19, 217,664 confirmed cases of the virus and over 100,000 hospitalizations -- all records.

Trump has spent his waning days in office not focused on leading the United States through a historic, deadly crisis but rather fundraising for his future political endeavors and sowing doubt in the country's democratic foundations.

PHOTO: Dr. Joseph Varon hugs and comforts a patient in the COVID-19 ICU Thanksgiving Day at the United Memorial Medical Center on Nov. 26, 2020, in Houston. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Dr. Joseph Varon hugs and comforts a patient in the COVID-19 ICU Thanksgiving Day at the United Memorial Medical Center on Nov. 26, 2020, in Houston. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images)

Regurgitating debunked conspiracy theories about electoral fraud that courts across the country have rejected, the president and the Republican Party have collected hundreds of millions of dollars as Trump mulls another run for the presidency four years down the line.

All the while, top U.S. public health experts have issued startling warnings.

MORE: Coronavirus live updates: US has worst day yet with record number of new cases and deaths

“The COVID risk to all Americans is at a historic high," the White House's coronavirus task force told governors Sunday in a report obtained by ABC News. "We are in a very dangerous place due to the current, extremely high COVID baseline and limited hospital capacity; a further post-Thanksgiving surge will compromise COVID patient care, as well as medical care overall.”

PHOTO: President Donald Trump departs after speaking during an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, Dec. 19, 2019. (Bloomberg via Getty Images, File)
PHOTO: President Donald Trump departs after speaking during an event at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, Dec. 19, 2019. (Bloomberg via Getty Images, File)

More than 276,000 Americans have been killed so far, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday predicted 53,000 more lives could be lost by Dec. 26. On average, one person died every 30 seconds Thursday.

“The reality is, December and January and February are going to be rough times,” the CDC's director, Robert Redfield, said Wednesday. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation, largely because of the stress that it's going to put on our health care system.”

MORE: 'You need to assume you became infected' at Thanksgiving: White House task force warning

Trump's Twitter feed, meanwhile, has focused almost entirely on making wild, false accusations of electoral fraud.

PHOTO: Nurse Shelly Girardin, left, is illuminated by the glow of a computer monitor as Dr. Shane Wilson examines COVID-19 patient Neva Azinger inside Scotland County Hospital, Nov. 24, 2020, in Memphis, Mo. (Jeff Roberson/AP)
PHOTO: Nurse Shelly Girardin, left, is illuminated by the glow of a computer monitor as Dr. Shane Wilson examines COVID-19 patient Neva Azinger inside Scotland County Hospital, Nov. 24, 2020, in Memphis, Mo. (Jeff Roberson/AP)

Trump has held few public events since the election ended on Nov. 3, with just one devoted to the virus -- a Nov. 13 Rose Garden gathering at which he touted what he characterized as the United States' unprecedented pace at producing vaccines.

MORE: Trump silent as UK is first to authorize vaccine

Asked Thursday what, if anything, the president was doing that day to address the pandemic, the White House did not offer any specifics. Asked about what he was doing Friday related to the pandemic, the White House did not respond.

As millions of Americans experience economic hardship, Trump on Thursday expressed general support for coronavirus-related relief from Congress. But he has shown little interest in engaging with Capitol Hill during negotiations over what form that support would take.

In pre-taped, scripted remarks that aired during the National Christmas Tree lighting ceremony Thursday, Trump did briefly mention the "once-in-a-century pandemic," noting "the goodness of our fellow citizens" and workers producing "life-saving supplies and critical aid."

PHOTO: Inmates from El Paso County detention facility work loading bodies into a refrigerated temporary morgue trailer in a parking lot of the El Paso County Medical Examiner's office, Nov. 17, 2020 in El Paso, Texas. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Inmates from El Paso County detention facility work loading bodies into a refrigerated temporary morgue trailer in a parking lot of the El Paso County Medical Examiner's office, Nov. 17, 2020 in El Paso, Texas. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

"Brave doctors, nurses and first responders have courageously risked their lives to save others," he said.

In recent days, Trump has lamented that President-elect Joe Biden could receive credit for the vaccines. Inoculations may begin as soon as late next week -- pending authorization by the Food and Drug Administration -- although most doses would be distributed after Biden takes office in January.

Trump on Wednesday posted a 46-minute diatribe filled with a dizzying array of falsehoods about the election he lost -- which he delivered standing at a podium with the presidential seal, in the White House.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White, Dec. 3, 2020, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)
PHOTO: President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White, Dec. 3, 2020, in Washington. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Declaring "this may be the most important speech I've ever made," he only briefly mentioned the coronavirus -- blaming Democrats for "using the pandemic as a pretext" to expand access to voting by mail.

"It is important for Americans to understand," he said, "that these destructive changes to our election laws were not a necessary response to the pandemic."

Trump offered no evidence to back his claim. He also made no reference to the virus's victims.

PHOTO: Medical staff treat a patient suffering from the coronavirus in the COVID-19 ICU at the United Memorial Medical Center on Nov. 19, 2020, in Houston, Texas. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Medical staff treat a patient suffering from the coronavirus in the COVID-19 ICU at the United Memorial Medical Center on Nov. 19, 2020, in Houston, Texas. (Go Nakamura/Getty Images)

As the president's words and tweets became further detached from reality over the past month, more Americans died.

Trump's former campaign manager, Brad Parsacle, said in an interview this week that he thought Trump's lack of public empathy tipped the election in Biden's favor.

MORE: FDA chief summoned to White House amid pressure to authorize vaccine emergency use

"I think it was the decision on COVID to go for opening the economy vs. public empathy," Parscale said in an interview with Fox News that aired Tuesday. "And I think a young family with a young child who, one, were scared to take them back to school, wanted to see an empathetic president and an empathetic Republican Party."

PHOTO: President Donald Trump is reflected as he departs after speaking in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Nov. 5, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
PHOTO: President Donald Trump is reflected as he departs after speaking in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House in Washington, Nov. 5, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

"I think he could have leaned into it, instead of run away from it," Parscale added.

Instead, Trump's White House has become a poster child for behavior public health experts say will make the situation worse.

It has begun hosting large, indoor holiday parties -- directly contradicting guidance from the CDC -- one of which Trump attended on Monday. Few of the attendees wore masks or practiced social distancing.

MORE: White House planning holiday parties indoors despite pandemic warnings

Dozens of White House officials, Trump allies, campaign officials and others have tested positive for COVID-19 in a series of outbreaks, including the president, first lady and their 14-year-old son, sometimes after large or indoor events.

PHOTO: Michael Neel, funeral director of of All Veterans Funeral and Cremation, wearing full PPE, looks at the U.S. flag on the casket of George Trefren, a 90 year old Korean War veteran who died of COVID-19 in a nursing home, in Denver, April 23, 2020. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)
PHOTO: Michael Neel, funeral director of of All Veterans Funeral and Cremation, wearing full PPE, looks at the U.S. flag on the casket of George Trefren, a 90 year old Korean War veteran who died of COVID-19 in a nursing home, in Denver, April 23, 2020. (Rick Wilking/Reuters)

West Wing staffers eschew mask-wearing, and the president has publicly mocked those who follow common-sense precautions.

The president plans to hold another packed, outdoor campaign rally in Georgia Saturday for two GOP candidates facing Senate runoffs. It appears to be styled after the dozens he held in the final days of his reelection campaign, when thousands of his supporters crammed together and most did not wear masks.

ABC News' Anne Flaherty and Josh Margolin contributed reporting.

Trump fixated on his own political fate as virus kills record number of Americans originally appeared on abcnews.go.com