In other words, any credible defense of Trump, it seems to me, must reckon with the plain factual record that Trump’s administration did not “have it totally under control” as he said on Jan. 22, when the world was groggily realizing that something serious was going on with a new disease in China. As late as March 6, when most informed people had indeed awoken to the alarming nature of the threat, Trump visited the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to proclaim, “Just so you understand, now it’s all performing perfectly.”

A serious defense of Trump must also contend squarely (as opposed to simply rejecting outright as biased) with detailed journalistic reconstructions of his pandemic response. These include a New York Times piece highlighting how the administration’s drift in February meant that the country was far behind in creating tests that could have been used to sharply limit spread of disease. There is a Washington Post autopsy highlighting how this failure was caused in part by managerial chaos and warring factions within the executive branch. A deeply reported POLITICO story partly qualifies Trump’s culpability by noting that his administration’s flat-footedness reflected chronic bureaucratic infirmities that predate his administration.