Notably missing in Tuesday’s debate hall was Republican National Committee chair Ronna McDaniel, who tested positive for the virus on Wednesday after a family member also tested positive. (She had been at home in Michigan last Saturday, the RNC said. A day earlier, last Friday, McDaniel and GOP Rep. Elise Stefanik of New York had visited the Trump 2020 headquarters. according to a campaign staffer.)
Later Tuesday night on the debate stage, the president said wearing a mask is “OK,” arguing he wears one “when needed.” But then he went on to mock the former vice president for excessive mask wearing.
“I don’t wear masks like him. Every time you see him he’s got a mask,” Trump said of Biden.
The same attitude was reflected by most members of Trump’s own family, who took off their masks after walking into the debate hall. The first lady did wear a mask during the debate.
Asked about the atmosphere of mask-wearing in the White House, one White House official said: “Some people wear them because they think it’s important. And I think some are probably embarrassed to wear them because there are some who think it’s dumb and they’re pretty loud about that.”
A person close to the White House added that staffers have been trying to follow Trump’s lead and his profound skepticism about the importance of mask-wearing. “It had less to do with weakness and more to do with reflecting the president’s behavior,” the person said. “The president’s behavior has a large impact on the staff.”
On Wednesday night, staffers started sensing that one of the closest people in Trump’s orbit was ill. The president traveled to Duluth, Minn. — for a fundraiser at a private home followed by a campaign rally — with a group of aides that included chief of staff Meadows and senior advisers Hicks, Stephen Miller and Derek Lyons.
Trump only spoke for about 45 minutes at the rally that night, an unusually short amount of time for the president’s freewheeling speeches. When asked why the rally was brief, one aide scoffed and said it was still 47 minutes long. Still, reporters traveling with Trump that night were struck by the short length of his speech — often the president will speak without a prompter for over 90 minutes.
On the flight back, Hicks displayed symptoms, according to a person familiar, and self-quarantined aboard Air Force One. She had traveled with the first family on Marine One earlier in the day.
The next morning, a Covid test came back positive.