I remember his commentary made the rounds a few weeks ago, when Trump was toying with reopening parts of the country on Easter. Steve Hilton was a prominent early advocate in righty media for the view that the economic cure to coronavirus might be worse than the disease. “Our ruling class and their TV mouthpieces whipping up fear over this virus, they could afford an indefinite shutdown. Working Americans can’t. They’ll be crushed by it,” he said on his show on March 23. “Keep the ban on large gatherings, but stop the total shutdown for everyone and start the total protection of the elderly and those most likely to need hospitalization. Don’t turn a public health crisis into America’s worst catastrophe.”

Quarantining the elderly and invalid and letting everyone else carry on was the plan the British government initially adopted before reversing course after the Imperial College model convinced them the death toll would be ghastly. Hilton’s mind has now been changed too, sort of, per his latest commentary last night:

“Last week, I said, open where possible, close where necessary,” Hilton said on “The Next Revolution” in his opening monologue. “Shutdowns do slow the spread. Look at the difference between the Bay Area, which had the nation’s first stay-at-home orders and New York City.”…

“So right now, in the absence of a better antivirus policy, it is necessary to shut things down everywhere, and that includes Utah, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, South Carolina, where there are no statewide stay-at-home orders,” Hilton, a former adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron, continued. “Now, I’m asking those governors, including a great friend of this show, Iowa’s Kim Reynolds, to put in place a stay-at-home order at least for the duration of President Trump’s slow the spread guidelines.”

He hasn’t lost his belief that the economic consequences of a sustained shutdown will take a human toll at least as steep as COVID-19’s. Rather, he seems to have come around to the idea that there’s no way to meaningfully restart the economy without getting the virus under control first. Every business in the country could reopen tomorrow and they’d be underwater in no time if customers are too afraid to visit. Solution: A coast-to-coast shutdown to extinguish outbreaks everywhere over the next few weeks, in the hope and expectation that that’ll allow the economy to reopen faster too. Interstate commerce faces an obvious problem if New York is beginning to recover just as, say, Houston or L.A. is getting hit hard. The country’s better off absorbing a few weeks of pain together to try to “reboot” collectively.

Fox being Fox, it’s possible that Hilton’s change of heart is simply following Trump’s lead. Now that POTUS has decided to extend the social distancing guidelines until April 30, Fox hosts are naturally under some audience pressure to support that move. But it’s also possible that Hilton is looking out for the health of his own viewers. As the epidemic spreads to red states, Fox’s viewing contingent of right-leaning senior citizens needs to know that staying home is important. WaPo reported over the weekend that the GOP’s own internal polling last month showed that Republican voters were ignoring social distancing guidelines partly because Trump and other right-wing influencers were skeptical of them. The memo from their pollster was stark:

The poll showed that far more Republicans than Democrats were being influenced by Trump’s dismissive depictions of the virus and the comparably scornful coverage on Fox News and other conservative networks. As a result, Republicans were in distressingly large numbers refusing to change travel plans, follow “social distancing” guidelines, stock up on supplies or otherwise take the coronavirus threat seriously.

“Denial is not likely to be a successful strategy for survival,” GOP pollster Neil Newhouse concluded in a document that was shared with GOP leaders on Capitol Hill and discussed widely at the White House. Trump’s most ardent supporters, it said, were “putting themselves and their loved ones in danger.”

Nothing inspires a quick change of tactics and messaging quite like “You’re going to kill your own base.”

Trump is reportedly considering appointing a second task force that would focus on when to reopen the economy. That’s a fine idea provided that it’s a genuine deliberative body, not just a counterweight to Pence’s coronavirus task force charged with advocating for reopening ASAP. The Times interviewed more than a dozen economists for a story on when it’ll be safe to go back to work and the consensus essentially was, “Whenever people feel safe going back to work.” An absolute prerequisite is much more expansive testing so that policymakers have a sense of how many actually have the disease and how fast it’s spreading. The dumbest possible move would be to reopen before the feds have done anything meaningful to increase diagnostic or treatment capacity; otherwise we’ll just have to shut down again in a month or two as the outbreak flares again. “We should certainly be prepared for a meaningful level of deliberate suppression of economic activity for the rest of the year,” said a former top economic advisor to Obama. Unless a miracle drug arrives soon, how could it be otherwise?