Set aside, for a moment, the more substantive question of how the government’s early nonchalance will shape events in the next few months and consider the pure political malpractice of that. Rather than try to bluster through, the president could have said, “There’s a potentially serious new epidemic under way in China, one that involves a virus we haven’t seen before in humans. We are beginning a full national mobilization in response to it. It may turn out to be nothing, in which case we will have spent a few million dollars on a pretty good dry run of our epidemic-response capabilities. That’s a good investment. There isn’t anything to panic about, but we’d rather err on the side of caution than err on the side of inaction. Now, here’s . . . Mike Pence.”

All right, I might strike that last sentence.

I have been banging away since 2016 on this point: “I preferred Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton” is a perfectly defensible position — but it is not the end of the conversation. It matters whether Trump is capable, competent, and honest. It matters whether he is trustworthy and whether he is understood to be trustworthy. Likewise, if you are on the other side this time around, or if you are a lifelong Democrat, then “I prefer Joe Biden to Donald Trump” is also a perfectly defensible position — but it is not the end of the conversation. It matters whether Biden is capable, competent, and honest. However the argument works out for you, it is important to go into this with eyes that are clear and wide open.