Wednesday, April 29, 2020


If we'd had a different president, even a different Republican president, the response to the coronavirus pandemic probably would have been very different. Mistakes might have been made, and I suspect that any Republican president would be acceding now to the business community's demands for a premature reopening of the economy. But the initial response by, say, President Jeb Bush probably wouldn't have been wall-to-wall denial combined with partisan attacks on believers in science.

Why did President Trump respond the way he did? He clearly didn't want to believe bad news as the 2020 election approached. But he wasn't alone, as Vanity Fair's Gabriel Sherman reports.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, shared Trump’s view that the media and Democrats were hyping the crisis for political purposes. And for both of them, the biggest worry was how the response to the coronavirus might impact the health of the economy. According to sources, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, a fierce China hawk, and deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger, a former China-based Wall Street Journal reporter who’d covered the 2003 SARS pandemic, argued to officials in mid-January that the White House needed to shut down incoming flights from China.

Kushner pushed back. “Jared kept saying the stock market would go down, and Trump wouldn’t get reelected,” a Republican briefed on the internal debates said....

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus a global pandemic, and Trump agreed to broadcast an Oval Office address to the nation. But even then, Kushner advised Trump to tread lightly. One source briefed on the internal conversations said Kushner told Trump not to declare a national emergency during the address because “it would tank the markets.” The markets cratered anyway, and Trump announced the national emergency later in the week.
We're used to the idea that Trump engages in magical thinking -- he thinks he can just wish away all the bad stuff that might prevent him from getting what he wants. Trump thinks this way because, emotionally, he's a child.

But Kushner had the same idea, and for all his faults, no one thinks of him as a whiny toddler. (An icy sociopath, maybe, but not a pre-schooler.) Did Kushner think the markets wouldn't tank if a pandemic reached America and the president never acknowledged it?

And why did both of them believe that an economic crash would destroy Trump's chances of being reelected? They don't have to be diligent students of history to understand why that's absurd -- they just have to look at a well-known event in our recent past: 9/11.

Before 9/11, Rudy Giuliani had middling poll numbers in New York City; afterward, he was a local and national hero, even as the city suffered. George W. Bush's poll numbers also skyrocketed. Voters don't expect leaders to make a crisis go away; they want leadership and empathy. That's what they thought they were getting from Giuliani and Bush, at least at first.

It's not just Giuliani and Bush -- even Jimmy Carter got a significant poll bump at first when Iran took U.S. hostages.

Governors are polling well in the coronavirus crisis. For the most part, it's not because they're promising that good news is just around the corner.

Would pro-Trump voters have immediately abandoned him once the economy started to suffer? On the economy, they're not abandoning him now. Even in election polls in which he loses to Joe Biden, Trump beats Biden on who'd do a better job with economy, because the public has concluded (regrettably) that he's been a great economic manager. The public blames the virus for the current downturn, not Trump.

Trump could have taken the pandemic seriously and been in a very strong position in his reelection fight, while also saving lives. But he thought denial was a better strategy. It was a dumb mistake -- and Jared Kushner shares the blame.

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