Two million views for this clip online in about 18 hours. Why?
I have an idea.
It’s not because so many people care what Francesa thinks, especially about politics. He’s a big name in his niche, sports talk radio, but that niche is far afield from Trump’s response to coronavirus. This clip is compelling because it’s the political equivalent of a unicorn sighting, a person whose opinion of Trump is actually susceptible to change based on events. There are precious few of those in America anymore, which is why Trump’s job approval barely moves irrespective of whether unemployment is at an all-time low or an all-time high. Francesa’s a special case too because not only did he vote for Trump, he first met the Trump family more than 50 years ago.
If you were sketching a portrait of someone whose loyalty you’d expect to be unwavering, it’d be a Trump supporter from the outer boroughs with a mostly blue-collar clientele and some sort of personal connection to the president. And yet:
The cynical read on that is that Francesa’s pandering to his audience, but (a) I don’t know that Democrats outnumber Republicans among his listeners and (b) Trump’s job approval momentarily is the highest it’s ever been, if only three points or so higher than it usually is. My guess is Francesa’s legitimately horrified by the scenes in NYC — as is Trump, reportedly, which helps explain why he recommended another 30 days of social distancing.
In addition to receiving briefings, the president has spent much of his time watching rapt as cable news and other outlets broadcast body bags and other harrowing images from the epicenter of the outbreak — Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, in the shadow of where Trump grew up — and found the dispatches unsettling, aides said.
“You know, I grew up near Elmhurst, and I look at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, and I’ve known it,” Trump said Monday on Fox News, echoing similar comments he made in the Rose Garden on Sunday. “It’s terrible, what’s going on. It’s body bags all over, they’re bringing in refrigerator trucks to put the bodies in, refrigerated trucks, big vans, like, big trucks are coming in.”
Both the Times and the Washington Post claim that Trump was persuaded to abandon his Easter target date by two pieces of data. One was the gory worst-case-scenario projections of a million or more Americans dead if state and local governments didn’t stick with the plan to slow the virus down. The other was polling data showing that most Americans wanted to continue the lockdowns despite the growing economic pain. Trump seems to have thought his Easter target date would be politically popular by teasing people with the prospect of economic relief soon. It wasn’t:
In a survey conducted by John and Jim McLaughlin, who were pollsters for Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign, 52 percent of Americans preferred a full national shutdown requiring everyone other than those deemed essential to stay at home as opposed to 38 percent who favored universal testing and isolating only those demonstrated to be infected with the virus.
In a piece on Newsmax, the conservative website run by a friend of the president’s, that appeared the day before Mr. Trump’s reversal, the McLaughlins wrote that the sentiment for a national shutdown prevailed in every region of the country and even among those who said they could not afford to be out of work for a month or less.
“Trump campaign officials and political allies had also briefed the president in recent days about their fears of reopening the economy too soon, arguing that a spike in deaths could be even more politically damaging in November than the current economic downturn,” claims WaPo, noting that rural pro-Trump areas could be hit especially hard by a wider outbreak since they have fewer doctors and hospitals. But a quick reopening was an economic disaster in the making too, per one source: “If consumers don’t want to leave their homes in July, we’re screwed.” Reopening on Easter, before the outbreak had been begun to subside, would have risked widening it and sending much of the country into sustained bunker mode, freezing the economy for many months. The sooner we get past the first wave of the outbreak, the sooner economic recovery begins. That’s the strategy Trump ended up adopting, to his credit.
As for Francesa, his complaint about Trump is fundamentally about “tone,” particularly blame-shifting and a disconnect from the somberness of the national mood. I … don’t know what to tell you about that, Mike. One thing you can’t fault the president for is being someone he’s not. This is who he is, and was in 2016. Why complain now? What did he expect?