By Larry Levine –
“People were dying and you called it a hoax.”
Those nine words, if delivered properly during a Presidential debate next October, could be the sentence that crashes the Trump presidency.
Trump, of course, will insist his response to the coronavirus crisis was “perfect” and brag about all he did to stop it. But by then hundreds, if not thousands, will have died, the economy and everyday life in America will have been upended and voters will know how inept and ineffective the Trump administration was in combatting it. This could be the one big lie the American public will not accept from Trump.
Based on how he has handled the situation so far and what we know of the ego and tendencies of Donald Trump, it’s easy to see how he could turn the coronavirus into the Hurricane Katrina of his administration. “It’s a hoax” could become Trump’s “Brownie, you’re doing a heckuva job,” which President George W. Bush said to his FEMA chief as things were falling apart in New Orleans after Katrina.
What we are seeing on an almost hourly basis are contradictions between what we hear from Trump, his vice president, and the medical professionals in and around the administration. Trump tells the nation tests for coronavirus are available to anyone who wants one. Minutes later Vice President Pence says they will be available soon. Trump tells the nation a vaccine will be available by April. Medical researchers say it will be more like a year to a year and a half. Trump tells the nation we had warning because of what was happening in China and “we stopped it.” At the same time the nation reads and hears reports of delays in distributing test kits and learns the number of cases is being under-reported because of the absence of testing. From the crashing of the stock market to the closing of schools, the coronavirus is touching the lives of millions of Americans while Trump is seen boarding a plane for a weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.
There was a joke when Trump named Pence to head the effort against the virus. It said that if the outbreak became more serious Trump would blame Pence and claim he never met him, hardly ever speaks to him. It might be funny if people weren’t dying, concerts and vacations weren’t being cancelled, the travel industry wasn’t in distress and jobs weren’t being lost at the nation’s ports.
By the time we get to the presidential debates in the fall, the American public will know of the turmoil in the leadership of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Three different people have headed the agency in the three years of the Trump administration. One of them filled the roll twice in that three years on an interim basis, so there have been four leadership changes in three years. In the 15 years from 2002 to 2017 just two people headed the CDC. One person headed that agency for the entire eight years of the Obama presidency.
During the Trump years, one person, Anne Schuchat, has been head of the CDC for two temporary “terms” as Deputy Director. One person, Brenda Fitzgerald, served for six months. She was a political appointee who once ran for congress as a Republican. She left the CDC under a cloud after failing to divest herself of stocks that constituted a conflict of interest and then she bought stock in a tobacco company. The current head of the agency is Robert Redfield, who has had close ties to conservative politicians for decades and once advocated an unproven HIV vaccine.
As for who can most effectively deliver the killer line against Trump on the debate stage in October, it has to be former Vice President Joe Biden. Sen. Bernie Sanders would deliver the line as an attack. He would raise and arm, shout it out and point at Trump. Biden would understate it, say it as a fact not an attack. Trump’s response would do the rest because his bungling of this situation and his attempt to lie his way out of trouble will have been well known long before that debate. The Democrat would simply have to remind voters of what could be the last straw in the tolerance of Donald Trump.