What Trump’s Coronavirus Strategy Will Look Like (and Why It Won’t Help Him)
Donald Trump’s plan to blame state governors for future coronavirus disasters is just as self-destructive as it is dangerous.
By Scott Mason
Ernest Hemingway had a saying that sums up the role that Donald Trump intends to play while (supposedly) pitching in during the coronavirus pandemic. “Critics are men who watch a battle from a high place then come down and shoot the survivors.” After saying that he will allow the states to handle matters themselves, he has officially become a pundit, while handing all responsibility over to state officials. Donald Trump can’t solve this problem, or even mitigate it. So he’s leaving it to the governors of each state to solve it so he can blame them for everything that will go wrong, and with a lot of overseas supplies needed to test for coronavirus exposure, a lot will inevitably go wrong if he intends to let the states do all the heavy lifting when they aren’t in the position to do certain parts of it.
It’s true that this is a matter of practicality for him politically. Refusing to take a new virus seriously until it was too late was not wise to keep cases down. Falling behind on testing wasn’t smart if you want to keep American life from grinding to a halt. Disbanding teams that work on pandemic control during a lull was certainly a move that one wouldn’t take if they didn’t want to lag behind while more and more people become exposed to coronavirus, thus complicating how long it will take to test the massive number of potential patients. It’s also true that Trump is taking a lot of his advice from a very unlike group of experts in order to get people back to large events as well as work.That is, if you could call the owners of Dallas professional sports team authorities in public health management or disease control.
Yes, Jerry Jones, owner of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys and Mark Cuban, co-owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks are on his economic recovery board. Maybe he’s wowed by their sports business acumen. Maybe he wants to have loud managers from an industry of masculinity on board. Maybe he has no idea what he’s doing if he has to treat this situation as if it actually involves managing the response to a pandemic. If this is all a conscious decision, it’s because that’s exactly the point. He doesn’t care about pandemic management. He just wants people to go back to their jobs and if he believes that he can help the republican party vote out the governors that have offended him throughout his presidency, refusing to pitch in and help their mutual constituents must seem like a way to throw a wrench in their re-election bids. Understandable for him, but maybe not as wise in practice
This decision is personal as much as it is political. It’s just another episode in the saga of Trump’s feud with a number of governors that he wants to be rid of politically. Some have not been cooperative with his policies on issues ranging from immigration to the environment. Others have fought for their constituents by making their concerns clear that their states need him to do better and, in effect, refusing to be his cheerleaders. Some of them have just spoken out against him at least once. None of them are conservatives and he believes that he is helping them retake states by dooming our country’s governors to failure. However, there’s one detail that no one has probably told him about and it’s one irrevocable disadvantage that he can’t solve. If he’s trying to kill two birds with one stone by distancing himself from a recurring PR nightmare and scoring political points for his party, he’ll inevitably lose the waiting game.
This plan of his is both horrifically negligent and poltically masochistic. Governor Gretchen Whitmer (MI) is up for re-election in 2022, if she does not join Joe Biden’s ticket for the presidency. So will Governor Andrew Cuomo (NY), Governor Gavin Newsom (CA), Governor Tim Walz (MN), Governor Tom Wolf (PA), Governor Ralph Northam (VA) and Governor Tony Evers (WI). Only Governor Jay Inslee (WA) will have a re-election campaign that coincides with President Trumps’s. Barring Governor Inslee, a feud with state executives who have another two years to lead is not worth a blistering defensive public relations campaign.
Just like Doctor Seuss’ Grinch, Donald Trump is obsessed with material details and winning. He puts his name on the outside of his tacky buildings, he trades his wife for a younger supermodel every few decades and he has even held up coronavirus stimulus checks so he can have his name on them. However, one possibility probably hasn’t even entered his mind. He’s probably thinking that every governor who doesn’t get the supplies needed to battle covid-19 automatically loses and he automatically wins in a messaging war. He simply cannot imagine how much easier it will be for these governors to win the popularity war, even without the means needed to succeed at ending social distancing.
The Trump Administration is assuming that the sheer, material difficulties of pandemic control will be too much for state governors to handle without their support. Logistically, and unfortunately, they are right in certain cases. Certain supplies are needed to do tests that the federal government can get a hold of faster. The universities, private labs and healthcare facilities that all do tests needed not only a steady supply chain but also the means to get those supplies to their final destination. Still, that doesn’t mean that Donald Trump can’t be easily upstaged by public servants who are at least willing to work harder than he is and, even worse for him, people who don’t have to worry about losing their job before he does.