Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

It took a stock market crash — and a Fox News star's intervention — to finally snap President Trump's delusional and possibly disastrous fixation with treating the coronavirus like just another winter flu.

Why it matters: Because the government was so slow to distribute tests, Trump officials don't know how far the virus has spread in the U.S. 

Behind the scenes: The president and some of his team were in denial about the virus for weeks, portraying it as just an overhyped winter flu. Over the past week, per half a dozen Trump advisers, a series of alarm bells snapped them out of their complacency.

  • Trump has always treated the stock market as his personal ticker on his performance. On Thursday, the stock market had its biggest one-day fall since 1987's Black Monday crash.
  • On Friday, the White House Council of Economic Advisers sent a memo to administration officials surveying outside economic forecasts. Its finding, per a source with knowledge of the memo: The likelihood of a recession in the next 12 months had risen from a 29% to 37% chance. A second source confirmed the memo's broad outlines.
  • And a number of informal Trump advisers — including Fox News host Tucker Carlson — emphasized to the president that this was not the flu and urged him to act fast.

Trump's error-riddled Wednesday night address — which sent the markets spiraling — was the low point of a disastrous month for the administration. One senior White House official described it as "just awful."

  • The short, 10-minute scripted speech contained three policy statements that needed clarifying or correcting (including the president's erroneous claim that he would ban trade between the U.S. and Europe). 

The big picture: The calamitous speech obscured signs that the administration is hustling to get its act together.

  • The administration is finally clearing out the regulatory hurdles to testing.
  • Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin cut a deal with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to provide the first wave of support for people affected by the coronavirus.
  • All of Trump's top public health advisers supported the European travel restrictions, according to a senior administration official who was in the room for the conversations. They will extend the travel ban to the U.K. and Ireland on Monday.
  • Top administration officials are finally following the CDC's guidance on limiting the virus' spread. Though Trump himself shook hands in public as recently as Friday, Vice President Pence told White House staff on Saturday afternoon to avoid physical contact with others.
  • Pence is holding daily press briefings. Two sources with direct knowledge said they will continue next week.
  • And the administration is working closely with the private sector and the states. Senior administration officials said governors and more industry leaders will visit the White House this week.

Between the lines: Trump laid a trap for himself by falsely claiming the U.S. footprint of the virus was small and shrinking.

  • So what happens, one adviser mused, if these numbers skyrocket simply because the administration finally gets its act together on testing?
  • The data will stand in jarring contrast to the president's outlandish claims.

The bottom line: The president initially set impossible expectations. When the numbers come in, he'll have to face reality.

Go deeper

Updated 19 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 33,138,963 — Total deaths: 998,380 — Total recoveries: 22,953,639Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 9 a.m. ET: 7,116,455 — Total deaths: 204,762 — Total recoveries: 2,766,280 — Total tests: 101,298,794Map.
  3. States: 3 states set single-day coronavirus case records last week
  4. Health: The childless vaccine — Why kids get less severe coronavirus infections.
  5. World: India the second country after U.S. to hit 6 million cases
29 mins ago - Technology

Exclusive: Where Trump and Biden stand on tech issues

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Getty Images photos: Win McNamee and Saul Loeb/AFP

Joe Biden has laid out a more concrete tech agenda whereas President Trump has focused on tax cuts and deregulation while criticizing tech firms for anti-conservative bias. That's according to a side-by-side analysis of the two candidates' tech records by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation shared exclusively with Axios.

Why it matters: The tech industry needs to prepare for either four more years of Trump's impulsive policy approach or for a Biden administration that's likely to be critical of tech but slow to take action.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Big Tech's share of the S&P 500 reached record level in August

Expand chart
Reproduced from The Leuthold Group; Chart: Axios Visuals

The gap between the weighting of the five largest companies in the S&P 500 and the 300 smallest rose to the highest ever at the end of August, according to data from the Leuthold Group.

Why it matters: The concentration of wealth in a few massive U.S. tech companies has reached a scale significantly greater than it was before the dot-com bubble burst.