It’s often argued that we must avoid “politicizing” crises like the current coronavirus catastrophe. But if anything can bury this cliche once and for all — “politicizing” a crisis really means debating our differences over what to do about one — this one should get the job done.
After all, the epic disaster we’re living through now just inescapably does underscore the enormous stakes in 2020, since the mass disruptions and suffering it will cause are in no small part a direct consequence of President Trump’s leadership failures and even his pathologies.
Indeed, in this case, Trump’s own words tell much of this story. They illustrate those stakes, and those failures and pathologies, as clearly as anything else does.
A new ad campaign from the Democratic-aligned super PAC American Bridge, which has been sent my way, uses those words in just this way.
The group is set to air digital spots in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin — the three “blue wall” states Trump cracked in 2016 — that document an extensive array of times that Trump minimized coronavirus, falsely downplayed the threat it posed and absurdly hyped his own handling of it.
“The country’s in great shape. The market’s in great shape.”
“I don’t take responsibility at all.”
“I’d rate it a 10. I think we’ve done a great job.”
As the ad airs those quotes, in the corner of the screen the numbers of reported coronavirus cases continue to climb.
The ad buy is part of an ongoing $850,000 digital ad buy in those three crucial states. The first buy on these new spots is five figures, but this is an important marker, because it shows how Democrats will make the case against Trump on coronavirus in the context of the presidential race — and this messaging will all but certainly get amplified with more spending in coming weeks.
The ads are target what Democrats call “potential Trump defectors,” including rural and small-town working-class whites who might have supported Trump in 2016 after backing Barack Obama in 2012. Other potential swing voters that might be swayed, Democrats hope, include suburban voters and professionals who might be GOP-leaning but are recoiling at Trump’s mismanagement.
What’s crucial here is that the words captured in this ad have reflected an actual mindset that has had terrible real-world consequences — and continues to do so. Trump’s consistent downplaying of coronavirus and his relentless deceptions about his own administration’s catastrophic performance are a massive obstacle to mitigating it.
This was true for weeks: Trump’s pathological minimizing of the crisis — all to avoid rattling the markets, which he views as crucial to his reelection hopes,— badly hampered the initial response. And that, in turn, may have allowed the coronavirus to spread far more widely than it might have otherwise, well beyond the capacity of social distancing and other mitigation to restrain it before unthinkable damage is done.
Trump’s ongoing efforts to minimize both the crisis and his own responsibility for it constitute an active and continuing danger to the country. Trump is still angering governors — and even passing the buck to the states — amid his ongoing refusal to admit the need for a more robust federal coordination effort.
In a very real sense, the faulting of Trump’s early deceptions flows directly into an ongoing argument over what to do in the present — over how seriously to take the crisis, over how to learn from our early failures in the face of it, and over what to do about it now.
As Jamelle Bouie notes, it’s on Democrats to illustrate for the voting public — as graphically as possible — that what’s at stake this fall is whether this mode of catastrophically failed governance will continue to hold such vast sway over our lives. It would be political and moral malpractice not to spell out these stakes.