By JONATHAN LEMIRE and AAMER MADHANI, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — His face framed by the golden Oval Office curtains behind him, President Donald Trump stared straight into the camera aimed at the Resolute Desk.
It was the night of March 11, 2020. And Trump’s presidency would be forever changed.
Trump, whose improbable election ripped up the rules of American politics, had spent three-plus years defying history and orthodoxy in a chaotic spectacle that dominated the national discourse and fervently engaged both sides of a bitterly divided country. And now, essentially for the first time, he was confronted by a crisis that was not of his own making.
It was the kind of test presidents inevitably must face, and Trump responded with trademark certitude.
“The virus will not have a chance against us,” Trump told Americans that night.
Five months later, the coronavirus has killed more than 175,000 Americans and left tens of millions unemployed. And now, as Trump prepares to again accept the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday in a ceremony at the White House, he must convince an electorate that has largely disapproved of his handling of the pandemic that he is not to blame, deserves another term and that all the chaos has been worth it.
“The future of our country and indeed our civilization is at stake on Nov. 3,” Trump said Friday.
Trump has spent his presidency bending Washington to his will. He has transformed a public health crisis into a political litmus test. He has presided over a booming, if stratified, economy, and claimed he created it. He has again forced race to the center of the American conversation, using federal police to enforce his view. He has alienated historical allies and changed how much of the world views the United States.
At seminal moments — in set speeches, impromptu riffs and long-sought policy reversals, examined in this story — he has redefined, at least temporarily, the presidency.
But he has not shaken the virus.
A virus born in China had swept through Europe and reached America’s shores. Global markets were tumbling, hospitals filling, cities locking down. On the day the coronavirus was officially declared a pandemic, beloved actor Tom Hanks announced he had tested positive. The NBA suspended its season.
And for only the second time as president, Trump addressed the nation in a formal Oval Office speech. He spoke slowly, his voice halting, and he seemed unsure of what to do with his hands.
The U.S., he told Americans, would “expeditiously defeat this virus.” But by any measure, Trump’s address didn’t go over well: The White House had to correct significant errors — one on travel from Europe, another on international cargo — within minutes of the speech’s conclusion.
And ever since, the virus has proven impervious to bullying tweets or the ability to dictate cable news chyrons. It…