Actually, it was February. We just found out about it yesterday though. That was when President Trump told Bob Woodward that he always knew the Coronavirus was a serious threat but that he downplayed it.
“I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Mr. Trump said on March 19.
The problem isn’t so much that Trump downplayed the threat to avoid a panic. It’s that he admittedly knew how serious the situation was and but still did not act to adequately prepare the country for the viral onslaught. The Associated Press detailed in April how the US waited until mid-March to begin stockpiling medical masks, ventilators, and other necessary medical supplies. Likewise, a shortage of COVID-19 test kits in the spring hampered the government’s ability to identify and trace infected individuals, which resulted in a larger spread of the disease.
A competent president would have tried to ease fears while simultaneously addressing the seriousness of the situation and preparing for the crisis to come. Mr. Trump was not successful at any of these three objectives.
Mr. Trump’s admission also undercuts his attempts to blame China for withholding critical information about the virus. China may not have been forthcoming but if the Trump Administration had the information anyway then why were they caught flat-footed?
Polling has consistently shown that his handling of the pandemic is one of Trump’s weakest points. Swing state approval of the president on the issue is in the mid-30s. With the new revelations, it is difficult to see how public opinion can be turned around.
To the contrary, some elderly Trump voters and Trump supporters who have been seriously impacted by the virus may begin to soften in their support for the president. If Donald Trump cannot fulfill his basic obligation to protect the United States then why does he deserve re-election? It can be difficult to vote for a man whose incompetence may have killed your friends or relatives and put your life at risk.
There was at least some defense in the notion that Trump didn’t take the Coronavirus seriously until it was too late. He might receive some sympathy for the failure of imagination in accepting the reality of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. However, it’s much harder to excuse a president who knew how dangerous the virus was yet not only deliberately concealed that fact from the American people but also bungled the job of preparing for the disaster. The first might be an innocent lapse in judgment but the second is negligence and dereliction of duty.
While some loss of life would have occurred no matter what actions were taken, the US death toll would have been much lower with a better government response. If President Trump had openly admitted that the US faced a life-threatening pandemic rather painting Democratic concerns as a “hoax,” governors and mayors might have introduced social distancing and mask guidelines earlier, saving tens of thousands of lives.
Even at this late date, it doesn’t appear that Trump wants to treat the pandemic with the seriousness that it deserves. The Republican National Convention notably featured no masks or social distancing and the Administration’s main push has been to get people back to school and work, regardless of the danger.
I don’t think the Woodward revelations and the Atlantic “suckers and losers” piece are the end of the bad news for Donald Trump. I think that we are in the opening phases of a “shock and awe” campaign against the president that will last until the election. The campaign will be all the more devastating because it will use Donald Trump’s own words against him.
Republicans have known for (more than) four years that Donald Trump is incompetent and unfit for office, but they stood by him even when he was wrong. Republicans have made their bed and now it’s time to lie in it.
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