May 1, 2020 - Politics & Policy

What Trump wants to signal with his coronavirus town hall at the Lincoln Memorial

President Trump and First Lady Melania Trump at the Lincoln Memorial on July 4 in 2019. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

If it seems odd to stage a town hall with no in-person audience at the Lincoln Memorial, a site for huge rallies and events in more normal times, you're missing the point: President Trump's plan for Sunday night is packed with strategic signaling.

Driving the news: Fox News said this week that the president will sit for a two-hour event on emerging from the coronavirus pandemic, called "America Together: Returning to Work," to be co-hosted by Bret Baier and Martha MacCallum.

  • "We wanted a powerful image of American strength and the idea of what reopening looks like," a White House aide tells Axios.

Worth noting: Trump staged a July 4 tribute on the memorial's steps last year.

Why it matters: The event comes on the heels of concerning dips in polls for the president. It's also taking place as he calls for national parks to reopen and for many businesses to get back to work.

  • Trump has often compared himself with President Abraham Lincoln — and praised or mentioned his predecessor, one of the most lauded presidents in history, in the context of his own political struggle.
  • He has also said contending with the coronavirus pandemic makes him a "wartime president" — and Lincoln kept the nation together through Civil War, one of the most tumultuous periods in his history.

Be smart: Trump thrives on rallies, grand events and getting outside of the White House compound. He's been cooped up for weeks — and this is both a way out of the gates for a few hours as well as a test run before big campaign rallies can resume.

  • "He's eager to get out of the building," the White House aide said. "The weather's getting to be nicer."

One big question: Will supporters of the president try to show up on site despite the "virtual" designation to try to see him in person — and jeopardize one another's health?

  • The White House says it's not encouraging people to do so and a perimeter will be set up.
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