They’re doing more harm than good by continuing to legitimize this character, who can’t stick to a message for more than four minutes at a time and is throwing tantrums on Twitter like a child because his dumb plan to reopen everywhere on May 1 didn’t fly even with his own staff.
I don’t know where to begin. Let’s begin, I guess, with the cowardly vagueness of the term “liberate.” That’s intentional, so that Trump can say later when he’s asked about this that he meant protest. People should protest in those states until the stay-at-home orders are lifted. But if he all he meant was protest, he could have said “protest.” Ingraham knows what he means:
How many of those who urged our govt to help liberate the Iraqis, Syrians, Kurds, Afghanis, etc., are as committed now to liberating Virginia, Minnesota, California, etc?
— Laura Ingraham (@IngrahamAngle) April 17, 2020
The Republican House would have moved to impeach Obama if he had winked at the idea of a violent response to Republican governors who weren’t complying with him on policy.
But there’s deeper cowardice. Trump threw in the towel yesterday on the question of whether he or the governors had ultimate authority to reopen the country for business. “You’re going to call your own shots,” he told them. He could have gone to court over that if he wanted. The reason he didn’t is because he realized that there’s a nonzero chance that reopening soon will trigger a second wave of the epidemic. If he gives the order to reopen, that’s on him. If governors give the order, it’s on them. Forced to choose between taking personal responsibility for a policy he believed in and covering his own ass, he knew what to do. Leadership 101:
In White House meetings with officials, advisers say, Mr. Trump has been bothered over how much blame he might get for the administration’s slow early response to the crisis, and pondered how to position himself and the administration to receive as much credit as possible in efforts to revive the economy.
He has asked White House aides for economic response plans that would allow him to take credit for successes while offering enough flexibility to assign fault for any failures to others. “People have made clear to him that’s an impossible goal, just two completely contradictory goals,” said one person in contact with the president. “But I’m not sure he’s convinced.”
If he wants governors to call the shots, he should get out of the way. Let them handle everything: Reopening for business, figuring out how to improve testing capacity, building a bureau of contact tracers, and so on. Go play golf. To try to actively undermine them by encouraging unrest from the sidelines while they grope their way forward in a historic crisis, with minimal federal leadership, is one of the most repulsive things he’s done as president. It’s almost self-parody given his reputation for adding chaos needlessly to any situation, no matter how chaotic it was already. How can we make a nightmare worse in which thousands are dead, the economy is in ruins, and the president has largely washed his hands of the whole matter? We could … have the president hooting at desperate people to “liberate” their states because his ass is chapped that the governors won’t do what he wants.
Not just any states either. Conveniently, Michigan and Minnesota are midwestern states where he either won or came very close to winning in 2016. He’s trying to galvanize his fans there for the fall by treating the Democratic governors as political foils. The cynical electoral targeting of his “liberation” call makes it even Trumpier: Instead of showing basic leadership by doing what he can to encourage national unity in a trying moment, he sees some potential advantage to himself so instinctively he seizes on it.
Amash asks a good question. Given that the president issued his own guidelines yesterday for reopening, which *specific* guidelines are Minnesota and Michigan violating that should properly require a “liberation”? Have they met the new federal benchmarks and are stubbornly dragging their feet on reopening for business?
The president uses vague calls to action so he can avoid responsibility and later claim he meant something else. Just yesterday, he was outlining a phased approach for “opening up America again.” He should be specific about his concerns. Which measures are okay and which are not? https://t.co/pnlUcsDQqf
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) April 17, 2020
WaPo looked at the guidelines issued yesterday and found that neither Michigan, Minnesota, nor Virginia has hit all four of the marks they’re encouraged to hit to prove that the epidemic is slowing before reopening. So what’s Trump complaining about? We’re still two weeks out from May 1, for cripes sake.
He can’t go a day without contradicting himself on the coronavirus response, notes Eric Boehm:
For weeks, the Trump administration’s official position was that the virus was not a serious threat. Then, suddenly, it was. When the outbreak started, Americans were told by the surgeon general that wearing masks in public would not slow the spread of the disease. Now, masks are recommended by the CDC and considered mandatory by many states and cities. Trump repeatedly misled reporters and the public about the number of coronavirus tests that would be available. He floated the idea of reopening the country on Easter, then backtracked.
It’s unreasonable to expect a president or any public official to have all the answers in the middle of an evolving crisis. But the fact that the federal government—and the White House, specifically—have demonstrated an apparent inability to deliver a believable and consistent message for more than a single day is only adding to the sense of confusion and fear felt by many Americans.
Which brings us back to Fauci and Birx. It’s one thing to try to serve the public even though the White House’s response is chaotic and contradictory. It’s another to try to do it while the president insists on undermining the strategy you convinced him to adopt literally 24 hours ago. You’re not serving anything in that situation. You’re just a fig leaf of scientific expertise for him while he runs around insisting on the one hand that everyone should go back to work ASAP and take measures to “liberate” their state if the governor refuses — and on the other hand that anyone who gets infected and dies if that plan succeeds should blame their governor, not him.
And here’s the best part: Fauci and Birx aren’t needed anymore. They have no meaningful role going forward, at least in the White House. What are they going to advise on, testing? The president says that’s a state responsibility:
Contact tracing? States like Massachusetts are already building their own corps of people for that, expecting that they’ll get little help from the feds. The only job Fauci and Birx really have at this point is trying to restrain Trump’s worst impulses and they’ve failed at that, as today’s tweets demonstrate. Time to go. If they don’t, their roles will end up consisting largely of having to do dispiriting interviews on Laura Ingraham’s show where they’re asked why we have to shut down our economy for this when Europe didn’t shut down during the Black Death.
But here’s the good news. I’m sure any or all of the multistate coalitions that have formed in different regions would be thrilled to have them as consultants. That’s where all the action is anyway now that the president’s washed his hands of responsibility for nuts-and-bolts stuff like testing. Go sign on with New York or Ohio or whoever and provide advice there. Cuomo’s not going to undermine your advice on Twitter five minutes after you’ve given it and two minutes after he appeared to accept it.
Update: Completely disgusting. Fauci and Birx should walk today.