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Trump plays up job gains while playing down virus

President Trump, who loves to spar with the press, took no questions.

That was a clear sign that he wanted the day’s message to be laser-focused on the economy, without distractions from journalists asking about Russian bounties or other controversies.

The economic news was so good yesterday–and so much better than expected–that the president would have been guilty of political malpractice had he not emerged to brag about it. And if the encouraging numbers help his campaign, and hurt Joe Biden, so be it. It’s great news for the country, and Democrats shouldn’t fall into the trap of rooting for calamity to boost their candidate.

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The economy added 4.8 million jobs in June, a welcome development that brought the unemployment rate down from just over 13 percent to 11.1 percent. (Another 1.4 million filed new jobless claims.)

It is “spectacular news,” Trump said at a hastily called White House briefing, the largest monthly jobs increase in American history. The economy is “roaring back,” and “the stock market is soaring.” Then there was a riff about how no other president could have done this, and a not-so-veiled shot at Biden.

“If you want to raise taxes, your 401Ks will drop down to nothing, and your stock market will drop down to nothing,” Trump said with extreme hyperbole.

To be sure, the American economy has been in a very deep hole, caused by the coronavirus-inspired shutdown. The nearly 5 million jobs that were gained is but a down payment on the more than 40 million that were lost when the pandemic hit.

And there is another set of numbers in the headlines: The more than 52,000 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday that broke the daily record for the fifth time in just over a week.

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The New York Times headline is like a split-screen moment: “U.S. Added 4.8 Million Jobs in June, But Virus Surge Looms.”

And that’s the question: How much does it loom, and could it throw nails under the path of the recovery car?

After all, among hardest-hit states, California has ordered restaurants, bars and stores to shut down all indoor activities before the holiday weekend. Arizona has asked the federal government for 500 health care workers. In Florida, Miami beaches have been closed and Jacksonville (site of the RNC convention) has mandated masks in indoor places. In Texas, overwhelmed Houston hospitals are transferring patients to other regions. All this will likely hinder the recovery.

Trump hasn’t wanted to talk much about Covid-19 lately–he didn’t attend last week’s task force briefing, the first in two months–but he had little choice at yesterday’s briefing.

He said the “incredible news” is the product of his efforts, with Congress, “to rescue the U.S. economy from a horrible event that was formed, took place in China, and came here. And they could have stopped it. They could have stopped it.  Nobody likes to write that, but they could have stopped it.”

The president also referred to the outbreaks as “temporary hot spots,” and said that without him “millions of lives would have been lost.”

In an interview Wednesday with Fox Business, Trump said: “I think we are going to be very good with the coronavirus. I think that, at some point, that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.”

The “disappear” language allowed numerous cable shows to play a series of clips, going back to February, in which Trump dismissed the virus as not much of a threat or predicted its demise.

In cold political terms, the president wanted to project an upbeat message, shining a bright spotlight on the job gains and pushing the virus into the shadows. But the two are inextricably linked.

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