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How Massachusetts Voters View Trump's Handling Of The Coronavirus

Tony Beaulieu says he got concerned for the first time about COVID-19, when the president got sick. But he says Trump's insistence that he's recovered reassured him that the virus is not much to worry about.
Tony Beaulieu says he got concerned for the first time about COVID-19, when the president got sick. But he says Trump's insistence that he's recovered reassured him that the virus is not much to worry about.

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

Tony Beaulieu never goes anywhere without his "Trump 2020" hat on the front windshield of his truck, and his Trump flag in the back. His face mask is usually somewhere on the floor.

"I only wear a mask when I have to go in the store or something," he said. "I take zero precautions. And all the people in my circle, same thing. They don't wear masks either."

Finishing lunch in his truck, outside a sandwich place in Waltham, Mass., Beaulieu, who owns a construction business, said he believes Democrats have been exaggerating the threat of COVID-19, just to make Trump look bad before the election.

"This coronavirus is nothing like what they're saying. They make up the numbers," he said last week, just before news broke that the president was infected.

But reached by phone afterward, Beaulieu conceded that Trump's diagnosis left him feeling a little more concerned.

"It does make you think a little bit," he sighed. "Now that it's in the White House and the president can get it, I guess I could get it too. You know, I would hate to get COVID and die."

But Beaulieu's worry wouldn't last long. When Trump left the hospital Monday evening, tweeting that he felt great and "Don't be afraid of Covid," Beaulieu was once again reassured.

"I don't know, maybe [the risk] is, you know, not as bad as it's cracked up to be."

That infuriated Massachusetts' many pandemic-prudent Democrats, out shopping at the same strip mall yesterday.

"Trump is [saying] 'Look, I told you it's nothing. Look, I got over it in two days. You can too,'" said fashion designer David Josef. "This is insanity."

"I think it is very selfish, very irresponsible and very ignorant," said Jennifer Craig, who works in development at a nearby museum. The president continues to discourage social distancing and mask wearing, Craig said, which will "result in more people becoming sick, more people dying and more people infecting others."

Josef and his husband, Dan Forrester, say they were especially outraged to see Trump mask-less in the White House while contagious, grossly downplaying the dangers of the deadly virus even as cases are rising and setting alarming records in many states.

"He's throwing gas kerosene on the fire," said Forrester.

"It's a disgrace," added Josef. "It's such a slap in the face to the [more than] 200,000 Americans who have died."

It felt especially irresponsible to some, that Trump didn't just say his condition was "improving" or "good," but instead tweeted a characteristically over-the-top pronouncement that "I feel better than I did 20 years ago!"

"It sounds like the drugs are impacting his mental acuity to be honest," quipped grad student Alex Berlin, who works as a contact tracer. "I talk to people for my job about having coronavirus, and [none of them] feel like they're 20 years younger," he said.

Fellow grad student Aislinn Mayfield said she too finds Trump's tweets dangerously misleading, especially since he is benefiting from taking drugs that are unavailable to other Americans.

"For him to just brush it off, he's privileged to say what he's saying. But I think he has definitely not thought about a lot of people in communities of color who need to take it seriously because there's a lot more risk there."

Trump loyalists, however, dismiss such criticism as partisan attacks. No one could have done better battling such a deadly virus, they say. And Trump had an equally important role to play as a kind of "Calmer-in-Chief."

"He's just trying to not panic people. You have to do that," said Rick Lampron, who traveled from Florida to work on a construction project in Massachusetts. "Look what happened with the toilet paper."

Lampron said Trump is also right to reassure people about the progress made on COVID treatment options. "There are more drugs now than we had at the beginning of the pandemic, so we are better off," he said.

Another die-hard Trumper sees the president's weekend drive-by outside the hospital, as reassuring as well, and defends the move that was widely panned for endangering his Secret Service agents.

"These people take a bullet for him. So he has COVID-19, and they're supposed to do what? Social distance? They're not supposed to protect the leader of the free world because he has COVID-19? They can't say, 'Sorry, Mr. President, you have COVID-19 so we're going to have to stay 20 feet back from you,' " said the Trump supporter, who asked that his name not be used.

"I don't want to put my family in jeopardy," he said, "because I don't want those quacks out there who are rioting and burning things down to come by my house because they don't like Trump."

"It's unfortunate," he said, that the country is so divided that "no matter what [Trump] does, it's always going to be wrong." Though, he noted, he distinguishes between liking the president personally, and liking his policies.

Kevin Mac, a retired corrections officer and Trump supporter says Americans should social distance and wear masks, at least while inside, but rejects criticism that the president is dangerously downplaying the risk of COVID-19.
Tovia Smith / NPR
Kevin Mac, a retired corrections officer and Trump supporter says Americans should social distance and wear masks, at least while inside, but rejects criticism that the president is dangerously downplaying the risk of COVID-19.

Another voter, Kevin Mac, a former corrections officer and a former Democrat, said he too bristles sometimes at things the president says or tweets, but he chooses to look the other way, and focus instead on what he sees as the president's strong leadership on the economy, and trade.

"You know, the president spews stuff. I'm not saying it's right," said Mac. "But you know what? I don't want no cupcakes in [the White House.] You've got to take care of your own country. We can't be, you know, bamboozled."

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

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.