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Voters Split On Trump's Handling Of His COVID-19 Diagnosis


Voters are both denouncing and defending President Trump for how he has handled his own COVID-19 diagnosis, reflecting the deep political divide over how he has managed the pandemic as a whole. As NPR's Tovia Smith reports, even in blue Massachusetts, the president is getting both criticism and kudos.

TOVIA SMITH, BYLINE: Tony Beaulieu never goes anywhere without his Trump hat on the front windshield of his truck and his Trump flag in the back. His mask is usually somewhere on the floor.

TONY BEAULIEU: I only wear a mask when I got to go into the store or something. I take zero precautions.

SMITH: Finishing lunch in his truck outside a sandwich place in Waltham, Mass., Beaulieu says Democrats have been exaggerating the threat of COVID just to hurt Trump.

BEAULIEU: This coronavirus is nothing like what they're saying. They make up the numbers.

SMITH: Beaulieu made those comments last week just before news that the president was infected. Afterwards, he conceded that Trump's diagnosis did make him a little more concerned.

BEAULIEU: You know, it does make you think a little bit now that the president can get it, so I guess I could get it, too. You know, I would hate to get COVID and die.

SMITH: But then when Trump left the hospital last night, imploring voters not to be afraid of COVID, Beaulieu's worry waned.

BEAULIEU: I don't know. Maybe it is, you know, not as bad as it's cracked up to be.

DAVID JOSEF: That's the message Trump is sending. COVID - look; I told you it's nothing. Look; I got over it in two days. Yep, you can too. This is insanity.

SMITH: Democrats David Josef and Dan Forester, shopping in Waltham yesterday, said they were shocked to see Trump mask-less in the White House while contagious, downplaying the dangers of the deadly virus even as cases are rising in many states.

JOSEF: He's throwing gas kerosene on the fire.

DAN FORESTER: It is so...

JOSEF: Stupidity.

FORESTER: ...Disgusting. It's such a slap in the face to the 200,000 Americans who have died.

JOSEF: It sounds like the drugs are impacting his mental acuity, to be honest.

SMITH: Grad students Alex Berlin and Aislinn Mayfield say Trump is also misleading people since the drugs he's taking are unavailable to other Americans.

ALEX BERLIN: For him to kind of just brush it off, you know, he's privileged, but I think he's definitely not thought about a lot of communities of color who need to take it seriously because there's a lot more at risk.

SMITH: But Trump's supporters brush off the criticism as partisan attacks. No one could have done better against the deadly virus, says Rick Lampron. And Trump is doing his job as a kind of calmer in chief.

RICK LAMPRON: He's just trying not to panic people. You have to. Look at what happened with the toilet paper.

SMITH: Another die-hard Trumper, who asked that his name not be used for fear of being harassed by Trump critics, also vehemently defends Trump's weekend drive-by outside the hospital that was widely panned for endangering his Secret Service agents.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: These people take a bullet for him. So he has COVID-19, and they're supposed to - what? - social distance.

SMITH: But he and others concede they too bristle at some of Trump's tweets, but they just look the other way. Kevin Mac, a former corrections officer and a former Democrat, says that's because of what he sees as the president's strong leadership on the economy and trade.

KEVIN MAC: The presidents spews stuff. And I ain't saying it's right, but you know what? I just don't want no cupcakes in there. You got to take care of your own country. I mean, we can't be bamboozled.

SMITH: But polls suggest fewer voters may see it that way as Trump's handling of his own illness and the pandemic more broadly appears to be eroding public trust in him, leaving more voters wondering if they're being bamboozled by their president.

Tovia Smith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tovia Smith is an award-winning NPR National Correspondent based in Boston, who's spent more than three decades covering news around New England and beyond.