Jonathan Chait is a left-winger but one who has proven himself willing to tell uncomfortable truths to his own party. Just a few weeks ago he warned that nominating Bernie Sanders would be an “act of insanity” for Democrats. Today he has a similar type of warning aimed at President Trump: Stop sounding like the Mayor from Jaws or you’ll lose the election.
Trump seemed totally oblivious to the danger of hardening his public image as the national-level equivalent of the mayor in Jaws, blithely ignoring reports of a gigantic shark because he didn’t want to hurt the tourism season.
Enough of the debacle has played out in public to supply Democrats with a campaign’s worth of damning video clips. Trump appeared in public insisting that the virus was “contained,” and that the number of cases “within a couple of days, is going to be down to close to zero.” Trump and his surrogates kept advising people to buy stocks after every dip. The strategy made no sense except as a desperation gambit to prop up the stock market on an hour-to-hour basis with dumb money from Trump’s marks…
It is possible that the public-health and economic catastrophes that loom so large at the moment will be gone by autumn. It is even possible that they will remain and Trump will somehow survive anyway. (After all, the mayor in Jaws had somehow retained his position in Jaws 2. And he was still minimizing shark risks!)
But it seems more likely that Trump has finally made his unfitness for office so blatant that even his own supporters will notice. The American economy, its health infrastructure, and perhaps more are plunging into foreseeable crisis. And every step Trump has taken along the way seems almost calculated to expose him to maximal blame. Trump is now quite likely to lose his reelection, and we will look back at the last few weeks as the time when he sealed his own fate.
I don’t think anyone’s fate is sealed in this election (well, except for Bernie Sanders) but Chait is right that Trump’s downplaying of the infection numbers will be used against him if the actual numbers in the U.S. rise as they have in China, South Korea, Iran, and Italy. There’s no guarantee this will turn into a worst-case-scenario in the U.S. as it has in other countries, but it’s unlikely the numbers will stay anywhere close to where they are now.
As Allahpundit pointed out earlier, there’s still time for Trump to make some different choices to change the dynamic. Holding off on public events for a few weeks out of caution would be a good start. Whatever he does, the guiding principle really does come down to not acting like the Mayor of Amity during a crisis.
By now we’ve all seen the video of people passing out in the streets in China and Iran. If that starts happening in LA, Seattle, or New York you really don’t want to be the person who was predicting it would all blow over. That doesn’t mean Trump has to stoke a panic but there is plenty of middle ground between the sort of thing he’s been saying and panic.