The Republican Party used to believe in personal responsibility. Bob Dole, the Senate majority leader and soon to be party nominee in 1996, stated the Republican Party stands for a “commitment to honesty, decency, and personal responsibility.” This is no longer the case under Donald TrumpDonald TrumpTrump announces new social media network called 'TRUTH Social' Virginia State Police investigating death threat against McAuliffe Meadows hires former deputy AG to represent him in Jan. 6 probe: report MORE.
During five decades in business and politics, he has never taken personal responsibility for anything. Not for violating the Fair Housing Act when he refused to rent apartments to black people in New York City. Not for hiring undocumented immigrants to work at his hotels and golf courses. Not for many bankruptcies and failed real estate ventures. Not for illicit payoffs to the women who claimed affairs with him. Not for perpetrating the biggest and most protracted lie in our political history that Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaEbay founder funding Facebook whistleblower: report Emanuel defends handling of Chicago police shooting amid opposition to nomination McAuliffe rolls out ad featuring Obama ahead of campaign stop MORE, the first black American president, was illegitimate because he was born in Africa.
As president, Trump blamed “liberal judges” for rejecting his initial travel ban on predominantly Muslim countries. He blamed Obama for his own policy of separating families seeking asylum. He blamed the media and Democrats for perpetrating a hoax about the dangers of the coronavirus. He then blamed China for failing to apprise us about the pandemic, even though he was briefed on it before he took remedial action. He blamed a nonexistent Obama era regulation for his own failure to provide medical professionals with adequate testing kits for the coronavirus. He blamed governors for the lack of protective equipment for health care workers.
Now Trump is setting up every American for an entirely new blame game with his misguided notion that we should abandon the stern measures to contain the coronavirus and return to normal by Easter. He wants to see the country “opened up and just raring to go” with “packed churches all over our country” in over two weeks. “It is just about the timeline that I think is right,” he added. Then with extraordinary deflection, he stated, “We lose thousands and thousands of people to the flu. We do not turn the country off. We lose much more than that to automobile accidents.”
Medical authorities, including some current and former members of this administration, pushed back. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, earlier said it was a “false equivalency” to compare coronavirus deaths to crash fatalities and that we must “face the fact” that the coronavirus is more lethal than the flu. Fauci, careful not to criticize his boss, responded to his idea by saying, “You have got to be very flexible and on a day by day and week by week basis. You need to evaluate the feasibility of what you are trying to do.”
Scott Gottlieb, the former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, said that so long as the coronavirus spreads uncontrolled, “older people will die in historic numbers” and middle aged people will have prolonged intensive care unit stays “to fight for their lives.” Meanwhile, “hospitals will be overwhelmed” and most people will still be afraid to leave their homes.
Even Republicans objected to the notion of an Easter deadline to open the country. “There will be no normal functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what is necessary to stop the coronavirus,” Republican Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming stated. “Protecting people and protecting the economy are not mutually exclusive,” Republican Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio said. “The fact is we save our economy by first saving lives, and we have to do it in that order.”
Trump knows two things full well. First, the country will not be ready and “raring to go” by Easter as the disease continues to spread exponentially. Second, the economy will plunge right before the election. That is where his blame game comes in. Trump will blame Democrats, their “politically correct” allies, and the media for failing to heed his advice of returning to normal times and packing churches and presumably companies by Easter. Trump will say that if only these opponents had listened to his advice, the financial calamity may have been avoided. But no one definitively proves otherwise, of course, since his alternative vision never became a reality.
The most cynical blame shifting of his career will fail only if Republicans return to their once cherished principle of personal responsibility. It will not be good enough for Democrats, journalists, and scientists to expose this shameless ploy. Republicans must rise to the occasion and strongly call out such audacious deflection and deception in no uncertain terms.
Allan Lichtman is an election forecaster and a distinguished professor of history at American University. Follow him on Twitter at @AllanLichtman.