BETHESDA, Md. — They came from all over the country, determined to help their stricken president recover.
Some had homemade signs, others held “GET WELL” balloons and dozens brought bouquets to lay in front of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where President Donald Trump has been combating his own coronavirus infection since Friday.
By Sunday afternoon, hundreds of people had congregated outside the hospital. They handed out water and candy and stacks of pizza the Trump campaign sent over. They flew every brand of MAGA flag in the sky — the most devoted carried 20-foot pipes with four flags apiece mounted on them — marching them up and down the sidewalks. “YMCA” and “Proud to Be an American,” both Trump rally staples, blared on repeat on boomboxes and generator-powered amps.
MAGA Country had gathered to celebrate and pray for their leader — an impromptu festival-meets-vigil for its venerated, living saint.
And then suddenly, there he was. After hours of listening to their cheers and acknowledging them via tweet, Trump emerged from his isolation chamber to greet the crowd, creating his own impromptu spectacle. In a brief appearance, Trump rolled past in his motorcade, waving from the window of his massive armored SUV, offering blessings from a hermetically-sealed Popemobile.
The gathering was, in a way, the spiritual center of Trump’s rattled base. Across the country, religious leaders had called on the country to pray for the president and Trump surrogates organized a candlelight vigil on Saturday night. On Fox News, Trump’s favorite hosts were vowing to fight for Trump, because “you fought for us,” as Laura Ingraham put it. Those strains were all present outside Walter Reed on Sunday, where a community that had regularly downplayed the pandemic’s severity, and shrugged off social distancing and mask wearing were now grappling with the reality that the 74-year-old president was now seriously ill, caught by that same pandemic.