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Would a Democrat have managed the pandemic better?

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The Democratic National Convention made it clear that one of the party’s primary presidential election themes is that President Trump grossly mismanaged the coronavirus pandemic. As Joe Biden put it in his presidential nomination acceptance speech, the U.S. response has been “[b]y far the worst performance of any nation on Earth.”

It’s certainly fair to say that Trump and his administration made mistakes. The real question is whether a Democrat leading the country would have done any better. Remember that the Obama-Biden administration had three and a half years to perfect the ObamaCare website,, and it was a complete disasterfor months.

Let’s look at some of the criticisms.

The response was too slow. President Trump has been widely criticized for being too slow to respond to the pandemic. Biden tried to contrast his approach by proclaiming, “If I’m president, on day one we’ll implement the national strategy I’ve been laying out since March.”

But recall that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat widely considered a future presidential candidate, said on March 2, “[T]he general risk remains low in New York. We are diligently managing this situation.”

On that same day, Trump met with major pharmaceutical company executives in the White House, urging them “to collaborate to speed the process of getting a vaccine and therapeutics to victims of the virus.”

On March 2, there were about 90 COVID-19 cases and six deaths nationwide. It was only 11 days later, on March 13, that Trump declared the pandemic a national emergency.

So, one of the leading Democratic governors in charge of what would become one of the hardest hit states didn’t see the virus as a major threat on March 2. And yet only 11 days later Trump declared a national emergency. Maybe Trump should have done so earlier. But 11 days from “the risk remains low” to a national emergency declaration doesn’t sound like negligent procrastination.

Trump didn’t listen to the experts. Biden declared of his administration, “We’ll put the politics aside and take the muzzle off our experts.”

The problem with this assertion is that the “experts” reversed themselves on almost every position. Between January and near the end of March, the country’s leading experts, plus the World Health Organization, were discouraging people from wearing face masks. 

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Robert Redfield told a House committee, “There is no role for these masks in the community.” And U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams tweeted, “STOP BUYING MASKS! They are NOT effective in preventing the general public from catching coronavirus.” 

By April it seems everyone was encouraging masks, and now Biden wants to mandate them.

However, had a Democratic president tried to force people to wear masks before, say mid-March, he or she would have been contradicting most of the experts.

The massive unemployment. Biden says, “More than 50 million people have filed for unemployment this year.” 

Um, yes, millions of Americans have lost their jobs, many permanently — but only because governors shut down their states. 

As the Associated Press pointed out, the Trump administration can issue guidance, but it did not shut down state economies. It’s not clear under the Constitution that he even has that power to do that. It was governors, both Democratic and Republican, who shut down their respective economies, sending millions of people into the (virtual) unemployment line. 

And here’s what’s really odd about Biden’s statement: It is mostly Democratic governors who have supported stricter and longer shutdowns. It has been mostly Republican governors who have been trying to reopen their state economies — and almost always criticized by Democrats in their state for doing so. 

And true to form, Biden just told ABC News that if the virus persists, “I would shut it [the economy] down; I would listen to the scientists.”

Does Biden not understand that all of the closed small businesses he mentioned in his acceptance speech are closed because governors shut down their state’s economy?

Here’s the point: It is ludicrous to complain about the high unemployment rate and shuttered businesses at the same time one supports state lockdowns because the former is a direct result of the latter.

The high death rate. At this writing, there are about 177,000 COVID-19 deaths, the eighth highest death rate per capita. The virus has taken a terrible toll, though much lower than some of the initial predictions. 

Would there have been fewer deaths had a Democrat been in charge? Probably not — if that Democrat was Cuomo, whose policies decimated New York’s nursing home population. 

In a social justice effort to avoid discriminating against patients with COVID-19 who the state wanted to transfer to nursing homes, Cuomo’s Department of Health issued this guidance: “No resident shall be denied re-admission or admission to the NH [nursing home] solely based on a confirmed or suspected diagnosis of COVID-19. NHs are prohibited from requiring a hospitalized resident who is determined medically stable to be tested for COVID-19 prior to admission or readmission.”

Putting COVID-19 positive seniors in nursing homes cost thousands of seniors their lives. Sometimes what you don’t know WILL hurt you.  

How many deaths? The state says 6,600, but no one believes that number. The Associated Press wrote on August 10, “New York’s coronavirus death toll in nursing homes, already among the highest in the nation, could actually be a significant undercount. Unlike every other state with major outbreaks, New York only counts residents who died on nursing home property and not those who were transported to hospitals and died there.” 

The good news is that as bad as the death rate from COVID-19 has been, it’s been improving for months. According to the Wall Street Journal, the 7-day rolling average of deaths peaked on April 17 — just one month after Trump declared a national emergency. 

To be clear, I am not arguing that the Trump administration has done a great job. The “experts” have made a lot of mistakes — like the CDC flubbing its initial COVID-19 tests. But both the experts and our elected leaders had a very difficult learning curve in dealing with new virus, and it is very likely that any administration, Republican or Democratic, would have made a number of mistakes. 

Despite all of the Democratic claims of pandemic competence, there is little reason to think that the party could have handled the virus any better.

Merrill Matthews is a resident scholar with the Institute for Policy Innovation in Dallas, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MerrillMatthews.

Tags Andrew Cuomo Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; CDC coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic Donald Trump Jerome Adams Joe Biden Trump administration communication during the COVID-19 pandemic U.S. federal government response to the COVID-19 pandemic

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