De Blasio on his terrible coronavirus response: I don't think we should be looking backward right now

When the history of the outbreak is written, it’s possible that no one will take more of a beating than this guy. Trump will be savaged, but Trump has a hyper-loyal base that will fight tooth and nail against any attempt to blame him. Ron DeSantis will be savaged too, but DeSantis has the good fortune to be able to hide behind a president from his own party to some extent.

De Blasio has no one to cover for him. Righties loathe him, lefties find him tone-deaf and embarrassing. Worse, he’s overshadowed in his home state by a higher official from the same party who’s been praised for his response to the crisis. He suffers from the contrast with Cuomo, not just his own ineptness. I can’t think of a Democrat in a key role who’s performed worse over the past six weeks than he has. No wonder Trump’s campaign and the RNC are so eager to highlight his failures. If nothing else, they’re a useful way to change the subject from the Trump administration’s response.

Jake Tapper played him a lowlight reel of his own soundbites this morning on CNN and all de Blasio could do is say that’s what done is done and we should look ahead — but not before flagging the administration’s screw-ups in rolling out testing in a timely way in February.

He’s right that testing was the central failure in this nightmare but it’s an open question as to how soon de Blasio would have acted to start shutting down schools and closing businesses if he’d had better information last month. His aides reportedly had no difficulty grasping the threat to NYC despite the fact that they lacked the same hard data from testing. This is from a Times story published on March 16, just five days after de Blasio told New Yorkers “to not avoid restaurants, not avoid normal things that people do… If you’re not sick, you should be going about your life”:

There had been arguments and shouting matches between the mayor and some of his advisers; some top health officials had even threatened to resign if he refused to accept the need to close schools and businesses, according to several people familiar with the internal discussions.

Teachers were threatening not to show up to school on Monday. A growing number of public health experts and politicians were calling for much of the city to be shut down to curb the spread of the virus…

“We all realized from the public health outcomes and political reality this needed to happen,” said a person familiar with the mayor’s deliberations who spoke under the condition of anonymity. “He just had to process it himself.”

“He doesn’t trust experts in the field until he has processed it himself,” said a source trying to explain de Blasio’s dithering, which sounds Trumpy. There’s Trumpiness too in the mixed messages he and his team sent at various points early in the crisis:

Shortly thereafter, he declined to cancel St. Patrick’s Day parade and then did. He resisted calls to cancel regular street sweeping and then did. He had a photo op at a 311 call center, where he told a caller who had just returned from Italy that she did not need to self-quarantine, advice that forced 311 to actually call the woman back and tell her to stay inside for 14 days. The mayor touted the city’s new, wide-scale testing capacity, only to have his Health Department announce that only hospitalized patients should be tested. He tweeted at Elon Musk to supply the city with ventilators. When a New York Times reporter wrote of his own gut-wrenching story about contracting COVID-19 and being unable to get help, a top mayoral aide chastised him online for seeking help at all rather than just getting better at home. And the mayor himself told a radio host that people who don’t display symptoms can’t transmit the disease, an assertion that contradicts information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…

“It has been just a constant struggle to get the mayor to take action,” said a City Council member, one of nearly a dozen lawmakers, senior government officials, and de Blasio advisers interviewed for this story. “I get it — he is concerned about the economic well-being of the city, he doesn’t want to overreach, but he is doing this thing he does where the more people tell him he is wrong, the more he is convinced he is the only one who has the right answer.”

Extremely Trumpy, right down to some of de Blasio’s aides fearing that his response was complicated by the fact that he was “keeping an eye on his national ambitions.” (A key difference between Trump and de Blasio is that Trump’s national ambitions are realistic.) De Blasio also suffers from a problem Trump would never be accused of: He’s a micromanager, reportedly driving his aides batty by focusing too much on public communications instead of the sort of broad leadership strokes for which Cuomo has been celebrated. And yet, some of his most notorious failings have involved public communications. I’ve thought of this several times over the last two weeks:

Encouraging people to squeeze in one last pub crawl before everything shut down was the worst advice he could have given. Time was of the essence in suppressing physical contact between New Yorkers; egging them on to have one last hurrah was basically egging them on to spread the disease just a little bit further before hunkering down. Did he just … not grasp the situation?

His most notorious PR fiasco was a visit to his favorite gym in Brooklyn to say farewell the morning after New Yorkers were told to avoid unnecessary travel. But he was at it again as recently as yesterday:

Why the hell did he travel to another borough to take a walk when average joes can’t go anywhere? Does he not understand how this looks to people? Does he not care?

The irony of his comment to Tapper about looking ahead, not back, is that he’s been only too eager to point out the Trump administration’s failings in his public appearances over the last six weeks. He, Trump, and even DeSantis are now involved in a high-stakes game of pass-the-buck in which each tries to scapegoat the other for their own failings. Trump’s brief interest yesterday in a cordon sanitaire around the New York metro area (and the RNC’s interest in this morning’s de Blasio clip) is probably an early inkling of a “blame the blue states, not me” messaging strategy for the fall as the virus engulfs the country. DeSantis was playing a similar game earlier this week when he demanded 14 days of self-quarantine for anyone traveling from the NYC tri-state area, although on Friday he got around to adding Louisiana to that list. The more Floridians are focused on out-of-state visitors seeding outbreaks in their home state, the less focused they are on DeSantis’s decision not to shut down the petri dish on Florida’s beaches during spring break earlier this month. Meanwhile, de Blasio will spend the rest of the spring, if not the year, complaining that everything would have been different in NYC if only Trump had knocked out an effective testing regime earlier. The political recriminations from this epidemic will last the rest of our lifetimes.

Read Jim Geraghty’s timeline for an exhaustive account of de Blasio’s complacency since January. Or, if you don’t have time, just read this. Not even four weeks ago. Exit quotation: