President Trump’s bombastic style has served him well through many stages of his political career, but as the coronavirus spreads rapidly throughout the United States, it is exposing how deeply unsuited he is to deal with a genuine crisis that he can’t bluff his way through.
It’s one thing for Trump to insist he had a “perfect” phone call and have all his Republican minions fall in line. It’s another thing to downplay a growing epidemic as more and more Americans get sick.
On Feb. 26, Trump patted himself on the back for the relatively low number of cases in the U.S. “You have 15 people, and the 15, within a couple of days, is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done,” he said. By March 5, he was tweeting that the U.S. had “only 129.” Just a day later, he said there were 240 cases, portraying this as a low number relative to the seasonal flu.
Sunday morning, he avoided stating any number in touting, “We have a perfectly coordinated and fine tuned plan at the White House for our attack on coronavirus. We moved very early to close borders to certain areas, which was a Godsend. V.P. is doing a great job. The Fake News Media is doing everything possible to make us look bad. Sad!”
As of this writing, Johns Hopkins has tracked 428 cases in the U.S.
When Trump was elected, many of his critics feared that he could talk the U.S. into a nuclear war.
Those fears have not been realized, as Trump has generally proven averse to military conflict — actually more averse than many of his predecessors.
He’s also overcome a number of scandals through a combination of relentless attacks on the media and his political enemies and overreach among his opponents in both camps. But this is something different.
Trump will be judged on his handling of the spread of a virus. And the outcome will be clear no matter how many things he makes up, no matter how confident he pretends to be, and no matter how many insults he heaves.
If anybody was hoping that Trump had the ability to rise to the moment, his comments upon touring the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should disabuse them of that notion.