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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Trump and COVID

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well underway.   It unfolds as Coronavirus presents unprecedented challenges to public policy and the electoral process.

William Saletan at Slate:
Trump would later claim that he saw from the outset how grim the situation was. That was clear, he recalled, in the “initial numbers coming out from China.” But at the time, he told Americans everything was fine. “We’re in great shape,” he assured Maria Bartiromo in a Fox Business interview on Jan. 22. “China’s in good shape, too.” He preferred to talk about trade instead. “The China deal is amazing, and we’ll be starting Phase Two very soon,” he said. On CNBC, Joe Kernen asked Trump whether there were any “worries about a pandemic.” “No, not at all,” the president replied. “We have it totally under control.” When Kernen asked whether the Chinese were telling the whole truth about the virus, Trump said they were. “I have a great relationship with President Xi,” he boasted. “We just signed probably the biggest deal ever made.”
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Not until March 11, six weeks after blocking travel from China, did Trump take similar action against Europe. In a televised address, he acknowledged that travelers from Europe had brought the disease to America. Two months later, based on genetic and epidemiological analyses, the CDC would confirm that Trump’s action had come too late, because people arriving from Europe—nearly 2 million of them in February, hundreds of whom were infected—had already accelerated the spread of the virus in the United States.
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Azar would later claim that during this time, everyone in the administration was pleading for more equipment. But when Azar requested $4 billion to stock up, the White House refused. Trump dismissed the outcry for masks and ridiculed Democrats for “forcing money” on him to buy supplies. “They say, ‘Oh, he should do more,’ ” the president scoffed in an interview on Feb. 28. “There’s nothing more you can do.”
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Trump didn’t just ignore warnings. He suppressed them. When Azar briefed him about the virus in January, Trump called him an “alarmist” and told him to stop panicking. When Navarro submitted a memo about the oncoming pandemic, Trump said he shouldn’t have put his words in writing. As the stock market rose in February, Trump discouraged aides from saying anything about the virus that might scare investors.
Philip Rucker, Yasmeen Abutaleb, Josh Dawsey and Robert Costa at WP:
If the administration’s initial response to the coronavirus was denial, its failure to control the pandemic since then was driven by dysfunction and resulted in a lost summer, according to the portrait that emerges from interviews with 41 senior administration officials and other people directly involved in or briefed on the response efforts. Many of them spoke only on the condition of anonymity to reveal confidential discussions or to offer candid assessments without retribution.
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Under mounting pressure to improve the president’s reelection chances as his poll numbers declined, the White House had what was described as a stand-down order on engaging publicly on the virus through the month of June, part of a deliberate strategy to spotlight other issues even as the contagion spread wildly across the country. A senior administration official said there was a desire to focus on the economy in June.

It was only in July, when case counts began soaring in a trio of populous, Republican-leaning states — Arizona, Florida and Texas — and polls showed a majority of Americans disapproving of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, that the president and his top aides renewed their public activity related to the virus.
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A senior administration official involved in the pandemic response said, “Everyone is busy trying to create a Potemkin village for him every day. You’re not supposed to see this behavior in liberal democracies that are founded on principles of rule of law. Everyone bends over backwards to create this Potemkin village for him and for his inner circle.”