Trump trying to revise his true record on Covid

Donald Trump talks a lot. When he talks, he is inclined toward frankness — an unvarnished stream of consciousness that can sometimes approximate guilelessness. But while the former president does let his audiences in on his inner monologue, he is rarely candid. In Trump’s efforts to revise the record he established in his last year in office, the former president reveals how little regard he has for his supporters’ intelligence.

Of all the political handicaps Trump has brought with him into his third run for the White House, Covid seems to weigh on him the heaviest. It isn’t long into his prologued disquisitions on his own “tremendous” record in the White House before the former president digresses into embittered reflections on how the pandemic interrupted his success. Sometimes, Trump blames the virus for scuttling “the greatest economy in history.” At others, he takes credit for its second-order effects (“We had the gasoline for the car down to $1.87 a gallon,” he told a constituent during last night’s Fox News–sponsored town hall — a rough figure attributable only to the cratering demand for transportation in April and May of 2020). His efforts to defuse the liability represented by Covid vary, but Trump’s insecurity with the subject matter is constant.

That conclusion is hard to avoid given the visible discomfort Trump betrayed when he was confronted by a supporter who sought reassurance that there would never be another “shutdown.” Trump did confirm that he would not support lockdown policies. “And I never did,” he added. “I let the governors make their decisions.” It is true that, as head of the executive branch of the federal government, Trump had no authority to impose lockdown-style policies on the states. But he sure did advocate for them.

As early as April 2020, Trump began to endorse anti-lockdown activism, calling on state governments to “LIBERATE” their publics. But even as he tweeted, his administration issued guidelines micromanaging the most intimate aspects of private American life. The president’s approach to managing the pandemic changed with the day. “Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won,” Trump said in a March 29, 2020, Rose Garden speech announcing the extension of social-distancing guidelines and capacity limits on venues small and large for another month (the first of many). “That would be the greatest loss of all.” If Trump didn’t strictly support lockdowns, the onerous three-stage process his administration established as a prerequisite for lifting them suggests he wasn’t overly hostile toward them either. “We are not opening all at once, but one careful step at a time,” he assured the public.

The former president spent the early part of the pandemic trying to be all things to all people. At times, he would criticize the states that followed the advice of his administration’s health experts for going “too far” with lockdown policies. But when intrepid Republican governors such as Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Georgia’s Brian Kemp experimented with easing restrictions, he would criticize them, too. “I disagree strongly with his decision to open certain facilities,” Trump said of Kemp in late April. Indeed, Trump hailed DeSantis’s reluctant decision to reverse course on reopening that spring after the governor was treated to a hectoring from the Trump White House.

Today, Trump is happy to appropriate some of the credit that is owed the Republican governors who bet on liberty and were rewarded for the gamble — unless, that is, those Republican governors are his critics. Then, Trump is just as happy to attack those Republicans for “violently” following his administration’s advice.

All this revisionism pales in comparison to the brazenness with which he denies the facts of his own tenure in relation to Dr. Anthony Fauci. “If you go back and look at the records, you’ll see that the biggest fan of Dr. Fauci was Ron DeSanctimonious,” Trump told his Fox News interlocutor. “Dr. Fauci was not a huge factor in my administration. He became a much bigger factor in Biden’s administration.” Trump must think we’re all idiots — that, or we have succumbed to the convenient amnesia on which he counts from his most committed apologists.

In much the same way he was both for and against lockdowns, Trump was happy to tweet missives in Fauci’s general direction even as he stood alongside him at daily pandemic press briefings and defer to the doctor’s wisdom. “He’s become a major television star for all the right reasons,” Trump said of Fauci, reaching for the sincerest compliment Trump is capable of bestowing on anyone. Even when they disagreed on Covid policy, the president was quick to reassure reporters that the doctor was “a nice man” who retained the president’s good graces.

The Trump White House’s schizophrenia must have been as confusing for Fauci as it was for the rest of us. By summer 2020, the Trump White House was circulating material designed to humiliate Fauci and undermine his credibility, even as Trump’s press secretary assured reporters that the Fauci and the president maintained a “very good working relationship.” “I like him personally,” Trump insisted. When administration officials claimed that Trump had little use for the doctor, Trump would publicly reprimand those officials. And the gratitude was mutual. “The president has gone out there and is saying things now that I think important, having to do with wearing masks, staying away from crowded places,” the doctor said in praise of Trump’s deference to Fauci’s preferred best practices.

Indeed, it seems that it was only jealousy that finally led Trump to expose the daylight between him and his administration’s most visible public-health official. Fauci “got this high approval rating,” Trump mused in late July. “So why don’t I have a high approval rating with respect — and the administration — with respect to the virus? We should have it very high.” Through late summer and into the fall of 2020, the relationship between Trump and Fauci deteriorated, but the president declined to sideline the telegenic doctor.

Donald Trump wants to have his cake and eat it, too, and he may just get away with it. Republican primary voters do not seem eager to engage in a critical retrospection on Trump’s last, worst year in office. His eagerness to revise the record suggests he fully comprehends what a hash the pandemic made of his legacy, and his ego will not allow him to attribute even the understandable mistakes that were made in that period to its novelty. But Trump’s insecurity doesn’t give him license to mislead his voters, even if the fictions he weaves are the comforting sort.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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