I do not share your perspective that it would be the same
President Trump thought corona was a serious matter in his conversation with Bob Woodward, but his comments to the public were very different. That was information he was advised on because he is the President. If someone else was President, I dont think they would have made the same choice to downplay the situation
President Trump is a role model for many people. He is a man in a very powerful position and his words hold great weight. I think people took it less seriously because of his words. I think his public messaging on the subject is a large reason why corona has damaged the US more significantly than other countries.