"It's going to disappear. One day, it's like a miracle, it will disappear," Trump said in the White House Thursday as the virus marched across Asia and Europe after US officials said the United States should support severe disruption in everyday life.
The president also warned that things could "get worse before things get better," but he added that it could "maybe disappear. We'll see what happens. Nobody really knows."
For weeks, aides and allies have been trying to impress him on the seriousness of the coronavirus situation, warning him of the threat to the global economy and – by proxy – his own choices, according to people familiar with the talks.
Devastating loss in Wall Street that finally convinced him to put a face to the crisis Wednesday. But his erratic news conference only aroused the impression of a leadership vacuum.
A lot at stake
There are also signs that the White House is more concerned about its political situation than the burgeoning crisis.
News that California is monitoring 8,400 people for the virus and an announcement that the state has already confirmed its first case of community transmission has further shaken public confidence.
"President Trump has no higher priority than Americans' health, safety and well-being," Pence said at a conservative political conference outside Washington. "While the risk to the American public is still small as the president said yesterday, we are clear. We are ready for anything."
The day, a day after he was appointed to a job by the president who would require him to work closely with opponents on Capitol Hill, then began a protracted attack on "socialist" Democrats. Later, he had to clear up confusion about his role – and confirm that he, and not Health and Humanitarian Secretary Alex Azar, was responsible for the antivirus task force.
The disclosure will do little to dispel suspicions that Trump is trying to suppress destructive information to calm markets and protect himself politically, and comes to the fundamental question of the administration's destruction of public trust.
If Trump hopes to place investors who have been trading stocks to historic highs that he views as election year, he will fail. The Dow Jones industrial average plunged 1,191 points or 4.4% in its worst loss in history. Stocks are on track for the worst week since the financial crisis.
The third day of heavy losses followed a flare-up of warnings that the corona virus could trigger a global recession, including from former Federal Reserve leader Janet Yellen.
Re-election on the horizon
Such a scenario could spell political disaster for the president when running for re-election. One of the few areas where he has majority voter approval is over his management of the economy. A double whammy of a downturn and a confused virus response could jeopardize the president's hopes for another term.
Anxiety for the coronavirus shot after Wednesday's announcement of the first case of the disease, in California, in a patient who had no travel or close affiliation to a sick person brought home to the United States from Japan or China.
The Obama administration's former Ebola czar Ron Klain accused the Trump team of not taking adequate steps to investigate whether the virus was already here.
"We haven't tested much and don't know how widespread it is," Klain told CNN's Jake Tapper on "The Lead." "If you don't test, you won't find it. How many cases there are now will be more."
It is not uncommon for an administration to find itself racing to recover after a sudden crisis. The question becomes how quickly a president can master the situation and put in place personnel and plans that take control. Administrations that manage it can win public directions and avoid political harm.
Those who fail – such as President George W. Bush's team, for example after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 – can sometimes never recover.
Republicans on Capitol Hill did their best to push back against criticism of Trump's response to a bumpy press conference Wednesday where his sunny predictions that the coronavirus may not be when the United States was contradicted by top officials.
"I think they're doing a good job," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNN's Lauren Fox.
But Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she had personally raised concerns about Pence's qualifications for leading the virus response to the viral response along with the vice president.
"We have always had a very sincere relationship, and I expressed to him a concern that I had been in this position," Pelosi said.
After Pence was put in charge of the coronavirus efforts Wednesday, critics disputed the president's comment that he had "a certain talent for health issues."