While Donald Trump may get away with spinning his political fantasies and pretending that they resemble reality — fooling some of the people some of the time — in ordinary circumstances, the outbreak of the coronavirus has put him in the position where reality is fighting back so hard that no amount of spin will go unchallenged by facts.
The contrast between Trump’s ranting at his South Carolina hate-festival (or rally as the Trump campaign refers to them) last night — where he called the virulent disease a new “hoax” being politicized by Democrats to specifically destroy him and his administration — and the White House press conference the president and his emergency response team held this afternoon can largely be attributed to the fact that after the first death from the disease on U.S. soil has taken place, the reality of the danger and the spread of the disease is impossible to credibly refute.
Just hours after his “hoax” claim, Trump was forced to walk back his premature downplaying of the risks that the coronavirus poses to the health and safety of the average American citizen and acknowledge that the country was likely to face more outbreaks of the disease.
With the death of a “medically high-risk patient” in her late 50s who had returned from a trip to South Korea to her home in Washington State now confirmed as the first domestic coronavirus fatality — as well as new cases reported in all three states on the West Coast among people who have not traveled to countries with existing outbreaks — the denial of the seriousness of the current situation was impossible for the president to maintain.
“Additional cases in the United States are likely,” an unhealthy-looking Trump said to reporters in the White House briefing room. “But healthy individuals should be able to fully recover, and we think that will be a statement that we can make with great surety now that we’ve gotten familiar with this problem. They should be able to recover, should they contract the virus. So healthy people, if you’re healthy, you will probably go through a process, and you’ll be fine,” he continued, still trying to minimize the threat of the outbreak.
With the president reportedly furious that the global pandemic has created a massive sell-off in the stock market that could jeopardize his re-election chances as the markets factor in the economic disruptions that the coronavirus outbreak will cause, many Americans fear that they can’t trust this administration to accurately report news about the spread of the disease and about our government’s preparedness to respond to it.
Such is the legacy of squandered presidential credibility that Trump has created through his record-setting lack of truthfulness.
Despite having to scale down his reassurances about the spread of the disease in this country, the president refused to drop his own politicization of the growing epidemic, explaining away his previous evening’s comments calling the coronavirus concerns a “hoax” by instead claiming that he was referring to the Democrats’ accusations that his administration was handling the response to the crisis in an incoherent and incompetent manner as being the hoax.
REPORTER: You used the word "hoax" to talk about this last night. Do you regret that?
TRUMP: "No no no. 'Hoax' referring to the action [Dems] take to try and pin this on somebody, because we've done such a good job." pic.twitter.com/ffiCnLskxe
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 29, 2020
It was a weak rejoinder in the wake of the news yesterday in The Washington Post that “officials at the Department of Health and Human Services sent more than a dozen workers to receive the first Americans evacuated from Wuhan, China, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, without proper training for infection control or appropriate protective gear, according to a whistleblower complaint.”
The fact that Trump has appointed Vice President Mike Pence to coordinate the government response to the outbreak has also concerned many Americans, given the poor track record that Pence exhibited during his time as governor of Indiana while a crisis involving the growing spread of HIV was unfolding in that state.
One brave reporter dared to ask Trump about the wisdom of that decision and whether he could guarantee that no political or ideological considerations would interfere with the government response to this health emergency. Trump quickly avoided the question and praised his vice president, before forcing him to the mic to defend his record as governor, still ignoring the basic question regarding a non-political, evangelical-judgment-free, policy.
Trump completely punts on a question about the Russia-Turkey conflict, seems unfamiliar with what's going on in Syria pic.twitter.com/KY7gfUiqjU
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 29, 2020
With the coronavirus outbreak likely to further expose the flaws in the U.S. healthcare system amidst continuing Republican efforts to weaken and repeal Obamacare, the Trump administration’s handling of the pandemic as it grows may prove to be one of the most crucial aspects of the president’s bid to remain in the White House.
With concerns about health coverage comprising one of the main drivers of the Democrats’ “Blue Wave” recapture of the majority in the House of Representatives in the 2018 mid-term elections, the timing of new healthcare woes may wind up being just the last straw that puts a definitive end to the Trump presidency as voters opt for a president possessing both the credibility and the competency to navigate a crisis like the coronavirus.
Original reporting by Matthew Chapman at RawStory.