When President Donald Trump wore a face mask in public for the first time last weekend, his supporters were exultant.
"Goodnight, Joe Biden," tweeted Boris Epshteyn, a campaign adviser. "Game on," declared Sebastian Gorka, an official who recently rejoined the administration. Campaign manager Brad Parscale simply tweeted a photo of the masked president touring Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., with the familiar Trump slogan #AmericaFirst.
With all the crowing, you'd think Trump and his orbit had long seen wearing a mask as a no-brainer and political win. But Trump's journey to don a mask is far more circuitous than what his allies portray.
Q. So Trump wore a mask -- what's the big deal?
A. Well, up until last weekend, the president hadn't worn a mask in public, despite increasing pressure to do so. Trump had forgone facial coverings at White House events, at his campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and at a Memorial Day commemoration where elderly veterans were present.
He did wear one while touring a mask factory in Arizona and a Ford plant manufacturing ventilators in Michigan, in keeping with the facilities' policies, but he removed the covering when he was in view of the media. (NBC News obtained a behind-the-scenes photo of a masked Trump at the Michigan visit.)
That made his appearance at Walter Reed, wearing a navy mask with a gold presidential seal, a milestone, one he explained was due to the circumstances of his visit.
"I think when you're in a hospital, especially in that particular setting, where you're talking to a lot of soldiers and people that, in some cases, just got off the operating tables, I think it's a great thing to wear a mask," Trump said. "I've never been against masks, but I do believe they have a time and a place."
Q. Has Trump really 'never been against masks'?
A. None of us can know his innermost thoughts, but the president has certainly sent out conflicting signals.