Out on the MAGA world fringes, people were divided. Some swiftly predicted rosy outcomes — the president was already healthy, he could take hydroxychloroquine, a much-hyped drug Trump has touted as a Covid-19 treatment with no conclusive evidence. Others concocted theories that the Democrats were, somehow, trying to steal the election once again.
Meanwhile, the president was unusually silent. After his post-midnight tweet announcing he had the virus, Trump went silent until nearly 7 p.m., leaving his fervent online fan base without guidance on his preferred narrative.
Yet the base’s response mirrors the way Trump has instructed his followers to react to any pandemic-related news: downplay, craft optimistic storylines and accuse the Democrats and media of obfuscation and vitriol. It’s how the president has reacted to nearly every unwelcome pandemic-related development in recent months, whether it was early concerns over personal protective equipment and hospital space, or a death toll that recently surpassed 200,000.
“I think right now, a lot of Trump supporters are just stunned and they’re not getting much direction from the president right now,” said Lee Stranahan, a former White House reporter for the right-leaning Breitbart News and a radio host on the Russian-funded Sputnik News.
Trump made his first brief statement before heading to the hospital Friday night. Appearing in a brief video, Trump thanked his supporters and said, “I think I’m doing very well” and that he was going to the hospital “to make sure things work out.”
Across the MAGA internet, Trump’s followers insisted the president’s deeply cultivated image of toughness, tirelessness and robust health would lead to his inevitable triumph over the virus.
“He works 20 hours a day. I think he’ll be tough,” said Mike Lindell, CEO of MyPillow and a Trump surrogate flirting with the Minnesota governorship, in an interview. “He’s a fighter. It’ll be tough to keep him down.”
The less-inhibited MAGA crowd put it in blunter terms.
“You’ve never seen him sick. You’ve never seen him without energy,” Brenden Dilley, a self-described “MAGA life coach,” told his viewers on his radio show Friday. “[He’s] not walking around with weak-ass, p—- f—— genetics. He ain’t got those liberal genes. These are, like, god-tier genetics; top 1-percentile genetics.”
Wishful thinking abounded, as well: Dr. David Samadi, a urologist and commentator for Fox News and the conservative Newsmax outlet, set the goal posts by pointing out that while Covid-19 patients over the age of 70 had a 94.6 percent recovery rate, patients ages 24 to 49 had a 99.8 percent recovery rate. “I would put POTUS in the 20-49 category due to his strength and stamina,” he tweeted.
Further afield, Trump’s most fervent supporters could hardly accept that Trump caught the disease in the first place, with some suggesting the Democrats — or perhaps the “deep state” — were somehow to blame.
“Does anyone else find it odd that no prominent Democrats have had the virus but the list of Republicans goes on and on?” tweeted DeAnna Lorraine, a former congressional candidate who has backed baseless theories from the QAnon conspiracy movement, going on to blast masks as a Democrat-backed lie and questioning whether China had technically made an “assassination attempt” on the first family.
In the conspiracy swamps of QAnon social media, there was, oddly, a sense of elation: Trump’s infection was, in their opinion, another sign that Trump’s plan to purge the government of pedophiles was about to reach a culmination.
QAnon is a set of online-based beliefs that, at its core, claims a top tier of Satan-worshiping elites are running a secret pedophile ring out of Washington, D.C., and that Trump is the vanguard of an upcoming “Storm” that will lead to mass arrests and executions of these officials.
And on Friday, according to various QAnon theorists, Trump had left a secret message to his followers in his announcement on Twitter that he had tested positive for Covid-19. Some suggested that his use of the word “together” was, in fact, code for “to get her,” a reference to attacks on his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton. Others thought Trump’s quarantining was part of a broader plan to isolate the president from potential violence associated with the upcoming election.
Kristen Doerer, the managing editor of Right Wing Watch, which monitors extremism and conservative media, predicted that without direct word from Trump, there would be no coherent messaging taking place in the base.
“I think he’s probably going to want to show his face, I think that’s what would really reassure his base — him showing his face and feeling healthy,” she said in an interview. “I think what a lot of the right wing activists and politicians are trying to do right now, they’re trying to figure out their messaging and just kind of see what sticks best with their audience.”
Stranahan summarized the simplest message: “Send prayers and good thoughts, and talk about how vile the Democrats are.”