Trump’s failure to reframe how Americans see his handling of the coronavirus

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Politics – washingtonpost

“In recent months,” Trump said Thursday, “our nation and the world has been hit by the once-in-a-century pandemic that China allowed to spread around the globe. They could have stopped it, but they allowed it to come out.”

Earlier in the week, Trump’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow talked about the coronavirus and its economic toll as if it were in the past tense. “It was awful,” he said.

“No one person could have seen this coming,” Dana White, president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship and a friend of Trump’s, said Thursday.

Repeating those defenses for six months now has not convinced Americans that Trump is doing a good job.

Most of the country still can’t send their children to school, hold birthday parties and weddings, or go to work. A majority are still afraid that they or a family member will get sick, according to a recent Washington Post-ABC News poll.

As normalcy eludes this country, Trump’s reelection chances have dropped precipitously. In this critical month before the general election campaign really gets going, Trump is down nine points to Joe Biden, according to a Washington Post average of high-quality national polls, and he is behind Biden in nearly every swing state that could determine the election.

At some points during the convention, Trump and Vice President Pence tried to pretend the pandemic didn’t exist. Each appeared before a live crowd — 1,500 heard Trump speak at the White House — maskless and largely untested.

The reality is Trump needs something to shake up this campaign. Judging by this convention, he doesn’t think it will come from his words on coronavirus.

Instead, he seemed to be relying on something outside his control, like a vaccine that is imminent this fall. That was the noticeable change of tone at this convention on the pandemic. Pence said he was “proud to report that we’re on track to have the world’s first safe, effective coronavirus vaccine by the end of this year.”

“We are delivering lifesaving therapies and will produce a vaccine before the end of the year or maybe even sooner,” Trump repeated Thursday night.

Rhetoric like this comes with its own political problems, such as that Americans will be skeptical the vaccine isn’t safe because it was pushed out quickly to help Trump. Health officials have assured Americans no such thing will happen. But the leaders of the health and science agencies fighting this coronavirus certainly haven’t been immune to political pressure in their decisions, like a recent one to misstate the data on how well convalescent plasma works, or recommendations to reduce the number of people being tested.

Even this push for a silver bullet in the form of a vaccine is consistent with how Trump has treated the pandemic from the very beginning. He pushed unproven drugs, sticking with them when scientists in his own government have backed away from them.

Trump’s approach to defending his coronavirus record at this convention is not a surprise. While Trump is known for a volatile governing philosophy, he’s not known for recalibration. Rather than try to explain the shortage in testing and his comments downplaying it to the flu or his push to reopen sooner than experts wanted, he has left Americans’ judgment of the coronavirus and him in the hands of whatever happens in the future.

Judging by his nomination speech, he seems to feel that what’s more inside his control is launching a sustained attack on Biden. On Thursday he previewed what we’ll likely hear for the next two months: Biden is someone who spent his entire career outsourcing jobs by being supportive of global trade, or he’s a hostage to the “radical left.”

“Just imagine if the so-called peaceful demonstrators in the streets were in charge of every lever of power in the U.S. government,” Trump said Thursday.

While Trump may not be focused on defending his coronavirus record, he is focused on attacking his opponents to try to make them more unpopular than him. That worked for him in 2016 against Hillary Clinton, a lesser-liked candidate than Biden.

But to do that in place of finding a new way to talk about how he handled the virus is politically risky for Trump. It’s the dominating issue for Americans, in a way Trump seems to fail to completely grasp.

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