Trump's too little, too late coronavirus pivot

Trump's too little, too late coronavirus pivot
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When John F. Kennedy sought the presidency in 1960, he said the “real issue in this campaign is the Republicans saying that things are good as they can be. I don't agree with it.” Today, with less than 100 days to go to the election and less than 55 days until voting begins, the “real issue in this campaign” is whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpUSPS warns Pennsylvania mail-in ballots may not be delivered in time to be counted Michael Cohen book accuses Trump of corruption, fraud Trump requests mail-in ballot for Florida congressional primary MORE’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis is as good as it can be.

Polls show that COVID-19 is the top concern for voters nationally, and in the swing states. And on this issue Trump has flunked the course. Polls show only 32 percent of the electorate support his strategy for dealing with the pandemic. Even among Republicans, only 68 percent voice their approval. As a result, according to Fox News, Trump is trailing by as much as double digits in the six battleground states of Arizona, Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin, all of which he won in 2016. It is not hard to see why Trump has done so badly. His statements have been riddled with inconsistency.

In Davos last January, Trump said that we have the virus “totally under control,” saying later that, “It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”

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At the end of February, he blamed the Democrats for “politicizing” the virus. There was Russia, he said, and the impeachment hoax, and “this is their new hoax.” He was wrong in March when he said that “anybody who wants a test can get a test” when the testing capacity was just 75,000. By then we had 262 cases and 14 deaths. That month, as he would repeat 22 times later on, he mused that “it will go away,” while the expert virologist Anthony FauciAnthony FauciFauci defends voting by mail if 'you don't want to take the chance' in person Museum unveils new Fauci bobbleheads after previous edition sells out Marlee Matlin: 'Unfathomable' that White House doesn't have sign language interpreters at coronavirus briefings MORE said “bottom line, it’s going to get worse.” Was it George Will who observed, “When you add politics to science, the result is politics”?

In March, when California Gov. Gavin NewsomGavin NewsomCalifornia coronavirus case count tops 600,000 California slams 'inaccurate and outdated beliefs' of parents suing to reopen schools Bass on filling Harris's Senate spot: 'I'll keep all my options open' MORE ordered residents of his state to shelter in place, and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine ordered his to “stay at home,” Trump, repeating pronouncements Sean HannitySean Patrick HannityPence on debating Harris: 'I can't wait' QAnon supporter in Georgia heads into tight GOP runoff Sunday shows preview: White House, congressional Democrats unable to breach stalemate over coronavirus relief MORE had made on Fox News, tweeted that  “we cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” But, the tocsin continued to sound: 33,276 cases; 412 deaths. 

On March 13, Trump shed blame for his administration’s lamentable ability to test Americans. “I don't take responsibility at all,” he said.

April is said to be the “cruelest month.” And it was. Cases soared to 700,000 with 37,000 dead as Trump announced a “flattening of the curve.”

On April 13, Trump announced that he would “call the shots” as to when states would reopen. His Republican states’ rights friends did a big “you’ve got to be kidding.” So, three days later, he said it would be up to the governors as to when to open up. It would be a “mosaic,” he said, “a beautiful picture.” The new cases touched on 70,000; deaths around 35,000.

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In May, new cases began to spike in the seven Sunbelt states of Florida, Georgia, Arizona, Texas, South Carolina, Arkansas and Tennessee, giving the pro-Trump Republican governors of those states, which had opened up too much and too quickly, much to answer for.

Trump also took political heat for stubbornly refusing to wear a mask in public. He said he "didn't want to give the press the pleasure of seeing it." He retweeted a post from a conservative journalist mocking Biden for wearing a mask with dark glasses as he laid a Memorial Day wreath on a soldier’s grave. 

Then, on July 19 came his interview on the White House lawn with tenacious Fox News investigative reporter Chris WallaceChristopher (Chris) WallaceOvernight Defense: Appeals court rules male-only draft is constitutional | Pentagon dismisses 'unserious' post-election debate Chris Wallace: Trump struggling with attacks on 'shape-shifter' Harris Pentagon dismisses 'unserious' debate over potential military involvement in any post-election dispute MORE. There, Trump said: “Everybody who is saying don't wear a mask — all of sudden everybody's got to wear a mask.... With that being said, I'm a believer in masks. I think masks are good." 

Every lawyer knows that a principal tool for assessing credibility is the prior inconsistent statement. The difference with Trump is that when he switches positions, he falsely claims that the new inconsistent views are the ones he held all along. Charles Blow writes that, “Only a person with an utter contempt for the truth could repeatedly take this tack.” 

The White House needed to pivot before disaster became irretrievable. The time had come to change course. So, on July 22, Trump conducted the first coronavirus task force briefing in several weeks. Prior briefings had run 90 minutes to two hours and were largely unscripted. But at this one, Trump read his statement from a prepared text. The briefing lasted 26 minutes. At last, there was a national message admitting that the pandemic was likely to “get worse before it gets better.” At last, he encouraged all Americans to wear masks — an action he later described as “patriotic.”

Trump said he was “getting used to” wearing a mask himself. No wonder. Trump’s national security adviser Robert O’Brien, with whom he meets regularly, tested positive. But, politically, it may be too little, too late for Donald Trump. The cases are up to 4.4 million; the deaths topping 150,000, as Biden widens his lead in the polls.

James D. Zirin, a lawyer, is the author of “Plaintiff in Chief-A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3500 Lawsuits.”