Politics & Policy: Maybe Trump Doesn’t Care About Getting Re-Elected


Does not compute.

Photographer: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Why else would he be downplaying hospitals’ need for supplies at a time like this?


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I’m just not able to process this one.

Item: “The White House suddenly called off a venture to produce as many as 80,000 ventilators, out of concern that the estimated $1 billion price tag would be prohibitive.”

Item: Donald Trump on Thursday night said: “I don’t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You know, you go into major hospitals sometimes and they’ll have two ventilators. Now all of a sudden they’re saying, ‘Can we order 30,000 ventilators?’”

I just can’t get my head around it.

Here’s the thing: The political system doesn’t ask politicians to care deeply about humanity. It just asks them to follow their political self-interest. And at a point in the coronavirus crisis where supplies are so low that they may be costing lives of U.S. medical personnel, I can’t put my mind around the idea that the president would allow his administration to let the shortages persist — or that he would publicly claim they aren’t real.

Sure, it makes sense that a president would try to deflect blame. Trump has argued that no one could have foreseen the current pandemic, even though his administration was led through a simulation of this kind of scenario during the transition, was given a playbook on exactly what to do, and had specific staff slots in place to deal with a pandemic until they were were let go.

Still, not everybody knows these things, and “No one could have predicted this” is the kind of claim that might sway some people. Similarly, Trump has invented a fantasy about previous presidencies to explain his administration’s very slow start in ramping up coronavirus testing. Again, I’m not exactly endorsing that, but at least I can understand the impulse.

But at this point — when the U.S. now has more Covid-19 cases than any other nation, and deaths are over 1,000 and trending higher each day — how could he fail to do whatever is needed, and then publicly set himself up for obvious blame?

Look: I’ve tried to be slow to criticize the substance of the administration’s reaction to the unfolding disaster. I’ve pointed out more than once that these situations are difficult, that experts themselves often disagree on the correct steps to take, and that perfection is an unfair standard by which to judge any president. I could add that while the U.S. has been hard hit, it’s far from the only nation where the coronavirus has spread. I’ve been tough on Trump mainly for his crisis communications, which are easier to judge on face value than something like getting tests into the field, and on the bureaucratic structure of his response.

But every time he does something like this, it lends support to the idea that he and his closest aides are butchering the response out of sheer incompetence, even as the few qualified experts involved are desperately trying to drag them back on course.


1. Sarah Binder at the Monkey Cage on the big pandemic relief bill that Congress has almost finished with.

2. Tony Madonna on the history of recorded votes in Congress.

3. Seth Masket at Mischiefs of Faction on the pandemic and the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

4. John Sides on Trump’s empathy ratings.

5. Bob Bauer, Ben Ginsberg and Nathaniel Persily on ensuring the 2020 elections can be administered properly.

6. My Bloomberg Opinion colleague Francis Wilkinson compares Trump and the coronavirus to Lyndon Johnson and Vietnam. Interesting.

7. Dan Solomon and Paula Forbes on how one grocery chain — H-E-B in Texas — prepared for the pandemic.

8. And Stuart Rothenberg on the late Richard Hanna, a former three-term member of the House. Fascinating.

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Jonathan Bernstein at [email protected]

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