US president Donald Trump is quick to pounce on the verbal gaffes of his opponent Joe Biden as a sign of his cognitive decline, but it was his own awkward slip of the tongue that sent the internet into overdrive.
Speaking at a Town Hall event on Tuesday night (local time) in Philadelphia, Mr Trump sought to play down the coronavirus pandemic in the US. He also contradicted recorded statements he made about intentionally playing down the virus.
“We’re going to be ok, and it is going away,” the president reassured during the TV event.
“And it’s probably going to go away a lot faster now because of the vaccine. It would go away without the vaccine.”
When pressed on his claim that the virus will go away without a vaccine, Mr Trump sought to explain.
“Sure ... you’ll develop like a herd mentality, it’s going to be herd developed, and that’s going to happen,” he said in a characteristically rambling response.
The US president appeared to misspeak when trying to invoke the concept of herd immunity, which is typically produced when enough of a population has been immunised against a virus, usually via a vaccine. Whether a population could achieve herd immunity to COVID-19 simply through widespread infection is not yet known.
While there are a number of vaccines in development, necessary phase three trials are still required meaning a vaccine likely won’t be available until next year at the very earliest.
Critics of the president erupted online over the virus gaffe, with many accusing Mr Trump’s rabidly loyal base of displaying a kind of herd mentality.
“A Freudian slip. ‘Herd mentality’ is what he hopes will get him re-elected,” one viewer remarked on twitter.
“Doubtless thinking of his followers here,” joked another.
Trump just said the virus will go away because of “herd mentality”
— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) September 16, 2020
At the town hall, Trump just said “herd mentality” when he meant “herd immunity.” But in Trumpland the former is so prevalent you can almost excuse Trump’s apparent cognitive decline.
— George Takei (@GeorgeTakei) September 16, 2020
Trump just said on this bonkers Town Hall that COVID will go away with "herd mentality." First of all, he's your drunk idiot uncle. Second of all, scientists say Covid won't go away with herd immunity. Third of all, he's your drunk idiot uncle.
— Randi Mayem Singer (@rmayemsinger) September 16, 2020
When Trump says "herd mentality," does he mean "herd immunity"? And if he does, in fact, mean "herd immunity," does Trump not know what it's called? Or was it just a slip-up that, had Joe Biden made it, would be seen as a massive sign of his mental decay by conservatives?
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) September 16, 2020
Trump downplays effectiveness of masks
The event, hosted by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, was a warm-up of sorts two weeks before he faces Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the first presidential debate.
It marked Trump’s first time facing direct questions from voters in months, and an opportunity for the Republican to test-drive his message before the critical debates.
When pressed by one uncommitted voter on why he doesn’t more aggressively promote the use of masks to reduce the spread of the disease, Mr Trump again cast doubt on the widely accepted scientific conclusions of his own administration strongly urging the use of face coverings.
“There are people that don’t think masks are good,” he said.
The president sought to counter his admission to journalist Bob Woodward that he was deliberately “playing it down” when discussing the threat of COVID-19 to Americans earlier this year. Despite audio of his comments being released, Mr Trump said: “Yeah, well, I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it, in terms of action.
“My action was very strong,” he added. “I’m not looking to be dishonest. I don’t want people to panic.”
This week the US surpassed more than 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 – a number that will continue to hang like an albatross around the neck of the president as he defends his administration’s response.
The first debate is scheduled for September 29 in Cleveland. The second of the three scheduled debates, set to be held in Miami on October 15, will have a similar “town meeting” format.
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