Trump and the pandemic

As he has done in other crises, the president is stalling for time as he processes the nature of the threat and tests rhetorical and policy responses to it. But unlike human political adversaries, the coronavirus isn’t something he can bluff, threaten or placate. If the epidemic follows the course medical experts believe to be largely inevitable, both the disease and its economic consequences will be immune to Mr. Trump’s standard tactics. He can’t spin them away, divert public attention by creating another drama, or blame them on President Obama. In the near future the mass rallies that have been critical to Mr. Trump’s political success may be banned on public-health grounds. If he is especially unlucky, one of his rallies could be implicated in a major outbreak…

The president’s basic political method is theatrical. Many Americans have come to believe that what happens in Washington is mostly fake news, more like professional wrestling than a serious ideological and political struggle with major consequences for their lives. Mr. Trump, from the vantage point of a long career in casinos and reality television, understands this better than his rivals. He approaches politics as entertainment and has repeatedly foiled opponents by turning potentially disastrous developments—impeachment, for example—into thrilling new episodes of “The Trump Show.” But a pandemic will affect voters more than scandals and pratfalls in the faraway capital. If a recession comes as well, will voters lose patience with Mr. Trump’s sizzle and spin?