He doesn’t literally say the words “we reopened too soon” here, but that’s his point. We reopened too soon. Which must be a source of deeply mixed feelings in the White House, since (a) Trump was America’s biggest champion of getting businesses reopened ASAP in hopes of kickstarting a big economic turnaround before the election, yet (b) the president’s own team has already pivoted to blaming Trump-friendly governors for reopening too soon by ignoring the federal guidelines.
I wonder how Trump processes all of that. On the one hand, scapegoating Ron DeSantis (or really anyone else) for his political problems must be immensely enticing. He loves to pass the buck. On the other hand, he’s so wedded to the idea of reopening, and so clearly unmoved by the plight of Americans fearful of being infected, that he reverted instinctively to pushing governors to reopen just a few days ago, after his advisors had already shifted to scolding them for reopening too early.
My guess is that he bristled at Fauci’s points in the clip below even though they’re in line with the “new” White House message because he prefers the “old” White House message and resents Fauci for being more popular than he is.
Here’s a little Twitter clue, which doesn’t mention Fauci himself but does complain about the case data on which Fauci’s point rests:
Attributing rising cases to more testing is very much an “old” White House talking point, not part of the new “we’re taking this seriously now, we swear” message. And it’s still untrue, despite him hammering at it for weeks. We’ve done more total testing than any country but that’s partly a function of population. When you look at tests per capita, we’ve done more than some hard-hit European countries (a little more than Spain, a lot more than France) and less than others (a little less than Russia, considerably less than the UK). America’s positivity rate is up since late June, although thankfully off its recent high earlier this month. According to the Rona Viz site, we have twice as many people hospitalized today as we had on June 18. And deaths nationally this week reached their highest point since May. We had 1,200 or so yesterday. Europe collectively had fewer than 500.
Outbreaks are still happening around the world, but in most places they’re starting from a small enough baseline of cases that contact tracing makes it at least theoretically possible to contain those outbreaks before they spread. Here, because only New York really crushed the curve, contact tracing is useless. The baseline is just too high nationally to run down how every infected person probably contracted the virus and to quarantine that group.
Vanity Fair has an investigative piece out today that purports to explain why the U.S. fell short on managing coronavirus, and contains an allegation so shocking that there’ll probably be hearings about it at some point:
Worried about the stock market and his reelection prospects, Trump also feared that more testing would only lead to higher case counts and more bad publicity. Meanwhile, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House’s coronavirus response coordinator, was reportedly sharing models with senior staff that optimistically—and erroneously, it would turn out—predicted the virus would soon fade away.
Against that background, the prospect of launching a large-scale national plan was losing favor, said one public health expert in frequent contact with the White House’s official coronavirus task force.
Most troubling of all, perhaps, was a sentiment the expert said a member of Kushner’s team expressed: that because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically. “The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy,” said the expert.
“[T]reating the coronavirus as a blue state problem was a fairly widespread approach in the West Wing,” said Maggie Haberman of the NYT in response to the Vanity Fair piece this morning. Relatedly, a few days ago the Washington Post reported that aides had finally convinced Trump to pivot to a greater emphasis on safety in his COVID messaging by presenting him “with maps and data showing spikes in coronavirus cases among ‘our people’ in Republican states.” The idea that the White House didn’t go full throttle on testing because they viewed the crisis through a red/blue filter, with the safety of residents of blue states a lower priority than the safety of “our people,” is so gross that it’s hard to believe, but it does align with Trump’s practice of catering to his base on almost every major political issue. Even his polling is touted in terms of what Republicans think of him, no one else. I sure hope we don’t find out that the reason America was cursed with the sort of unmanageable elevated national baseline that Fauci describes here is because the people in charge talked themselves into believing that coronavirus “only” afflicts Democrats for the most part.
Dr. Fauci on the US coronavirus case curve: "We really functionally shut down only about 50% in the sense of the totality of the country."
"We started off with a very difficult baseline of transmission that was going on at the time that we tried to open up the country." pic.twitter.com/aksjDuAtKP
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) July 31, 2020