Yeah, that sounds like him. If there’s a surprise here, it’s only that he hasn’t questioned it publicly already.
President Trump has complained to advisers about the way coronavirus deaths are being calculated, suggesting the real numbers are actually lower — and a number of his senior aides share this view, according to sources with direct knowledge.
What’s next: A senior administration official said he expects the president to begin publicly questioning the death toll as it closes in on his predictions for the final death count and damages him politically…
A senior White House official pushed back, saying this of the president’s thinking: “Skepticism isn’t the right way to frame it. The numbers have been revised up to include presumptive cases — meaning deaths that are believed to be related to COVID but not known for sure.”
“So he’s expressed the need to properly convey that to American people so they’re not startled by why numbers ticked up.”
I was sitting here thinking he was going to question the numbers for self-serving reasons, because the rising death toll is a major electoral liability for him, but it turns out he’s just worried about the tender sensibilities of the American people. You know how he is. Always thinking of others, never himself.
Deaths are being undercounted, not overcounted, but never mind that. It sounds from the story like Trump might try to spin a theory of overcounting from the fact that hospitals are being paid 20 percent bonuses by Medicare for treating coronavirus patients, to help make up for all the business they’ve lost lately as people avoid elective surgeries and treatments for other illnesses. Imagine him interrupting the applause for hospital staff on their way to work each day to spitball a theory about those same staffers committing massive, ongoing taxpayer fraud. Finally he’s identified the evildoers at the heart of the great COVID conspiracy to damage him politically: Doctors and hospitals.
The other route he could go would be to complain about “probable deaths” being counted as official deaths, as New York and some other jurisdictions have done. “With something like this virus, where you’ve got this weird coagulation in the lungs … we need more autopsies,” said one official to Axios, skeptically and semi-coherently. I’m not sure what’s being implied there; does he think there’s some sort of weird blood-clot epidemic that just so happens to be unfolding alongside but unrelated to the COVID epidemic, and coincidentally the patients with the clots also have COVID symptoms? If I were Trump I wouldn’t want people to start thinking too hard about the difference between confirmed deaths from an infectious disease and deaths attributed to that disease but not confirmed to have been caused by it. If they did that they’d realize that the number of confirmed deaths from the flu each year is much, much smaller than the number of deaths attributed to the flu based on best estimates. Then the “COVID is no worse than the flu” talking point would go completely up in smoke, to the extent it hasn’t already.
Still, there was never a question that he was going to challenge the death toll. Trump’s super power is constructing attractive alternate realities for himself and getting other people to buy into them. You can pick practically any element of his biography and find mythmaking or suspected mythmaking to it. How much he’s worth, how he made his money, how much he gave to charity, what his social life was like, how successful he was at business, why he didn’t go to Vietnam, on and on and on. Something like 25 women have accused him of sexual misconduct of various stripes and he’s convinced some of his fans that they’re all lying. He spent much of the fall of 2016 pre-spinning his defeat by insisting that the system was rigged against him, then switched after he won to complaining that he lost the popular vote because of some secret surge of illegal immigrant voters at the polls.
His greatest achievement until 2016 was convincing the country that he was an executive genius based on a role he played on a TV show.
On top of the mythmaking there’s the fact that he’s psychologically inclined towards conspiracy theories. Obama’s supposed birth in Kenya is the most famous example but he’s forever being drawn to crankery like vaccine skepticism. Put all of that together, the self-aggrandizement with his taste for garbage information, and it was inevitable that he’d become a truther about the coronavirus death count. Everything’s pushing him towards it. Here’s a perfect insight into his thinking from just this afternoon:
Trump tells WH press: "In a way by doing all this testing we make ourselves look bad… we're going to have more cases [because of more testing]."
Of course, those cases would still exist w/o testing & would likely be worse as untested people unknowingly spread the virus.
— Alice Miranda Ollstein (@AliceOllstein) May 6, 2020
You may remember that he made a similar point in the earliest days of the epidemic, when some Americans were stranded on a cruise ship on which there’d been a COVID outbreak and a debate was starting over whether to bring them ashore or not. I’d rather not, said Trump, because if we bring them ashore then we have to include them in the official case count.
That’s him. The fate of the people onboard is secondary. The fact that it would *aid* the mitigation effort to know exactly how many people have the disease and who they are also didn’t matter. All that mattered were perceptions about the numbers because the numbers ultimately reflect on him. If it’s a choice between ramping up testing to get the outbreak under control while seeing case counts climb or seeing case counts stable as the epidemic surges in secret, why wouldn’t he prefer the latter “reality” to the former one?
The suspense isn’t whether he’ll start questioning the count, the suspense is whether the people around him will put up with it. And they probably will. For Fauci and Birx, at this point if you’re in for a penny you’re in for a pound.