We are finally — thankfully — in the midst of a full-scale national mobilization to minimize the impact of this dreaded virus.
President Trump has finally — thankfully — changed his tone about what he now calls an “invisible enemy,” and saying of the situation, “it’s bad.” In ordering more sweeping action, the president now says the virus may not peak until July or August.
Man, have we lost a lot of time.
As recently as three days ago, Trump was saying such things as “just relax,” “it will all pass,” and “we’re going to all be great.”
By the time the president shifted gears, many governors, mayors and business leaders had already taken drastic steps, closing down colleges and schools, restaurants, theaters and sports clubs. It seemed radical when California and New York barred gatherings of more than 250 or 500 people; Trump is now telling Americans not to hang out with more than 10 people.
What changed? One factor, according to the New York Times, is a British report finding that “without action by the government and individuals to slow the spread of coronavirus and suppress new cases, 2.2 million people in the United States could die.”
Deborah Birx, a leader of the White House task force, said the administration viewed the report as important. But the British researchers shared the findings with the White House about a week ago.
Not surprisingly, the president is taking a hit in the polls. In a NPR/PBS “NewsHour” survey, 37 percent say they have a good amount or a great deal of trust in virus information they hear from Trump, while 60 percent say they don’t have very much trust in the president’s words.
Meanwhile, despite the new mood of national seriousness, Trump has been getting into spats with Democratic governors about the virus response.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said on MSNBC that “to hear the leader of the federal government telling us to work around the federal government because it’s too slow, it’s kind of mind-boggling, to be honest.”
The president tweeted: “Failing Michigan Governor must work harder and be much more proactive. We are pushing her to get the job done. I stand with Michigan.”
Similarly, after Andrew Cuomo said the feds need to do more, Trump tweeted yesterday that the New York governor wants “all states to be treated the same,” but “all states aren’t the same…Andrew, keep politics out of it.”
Cuomo’s response: “YOU have to do something! You’re supposed to be the president.”
There was a cease-fire hours later, though, however, when Cuomo told reporters he takes Trump at his word that he’ll try to help New York. The president said he and Cuomo are both doing a good job.
The big headline out of yesterday’s White House presser was Steve Mnuchin saying they want to start sending Americans checks over the next two weeks to cushion the financial blow of the crisis. The Treasury chief provided no details, but did say that millionaires shouldn’t get such checks, indicating some type of means test. The White House had favored a payroll tax cut, but that would take months to have much impact.
Obviously sensitive to criticism over his earlier efforts to downplay the virus, Trump said yesterday he “felt this was a pandemic long before it was a pandemic.”
There is still something of a zig-zag pattern to the virus debate: Appeals to national unity are interspersed with partisan sniping on both sides.
There’s no way to take politics completely out of the process, but I think Americans would appreciate a greater sense of cooperation, which has been MIA in Washington in recent years.
My business is also getting failing grades. In a new Morning Consult/Hollywood Reporter poll, exactly half of those questioned believe the media are overhyping the virus crisis.
The survey found that just 17 percent of respondents have “a lot” of trust in virus information provided by network news. For newspapers the figure was 14 percent, and 13 percent for cable news networks.
That is a vote of no confidence, and puts these media outlets behind the relatively low scores for Trump (20 percent) and Mike Pence (18 percent).
And the most trusted on the coronavirus: the CDC (50 percent) and WHO (43 percent). That faith in medical experts helps explain why Trump has Anthony Fauci play such a front-and-center role at the daily briefings.