March 21, 2020
Trump and the GOP in a time of crisis
As the response to pandemic unfolds, it will be interesting to see whether three political phenomena undergo change.
The first question is whether President Trump will show leadership, something notably lacking in his record to date. His early downplaying of the problem and his failure to mobilize federal support, despite more recently dubbing himself a war president, suggest a negative answer. His misstatements and demeanor have led to demands that his news conferences not be carried live.
The second is whether support for Trump will fade, which relates in part to November, but is important now: if he remains popular, he may continue to mislead. Support may not fade, due to the fanatic loyalty of his base, and may be increased by the tendency of all people to rally around in times of trouble, despite his dismal performance. The reaction of the base thus far is suggested by an NPR/PBS poll conducted March 13-14 showing that 85% of registered Republican voters approve of “how President Donald Trump is handling the coronavirus pandemic." Among all respondents, 44% said yes, 49% no.22
Anyone tempted to take seriously any of his pronouncements about the crisis — or to support him for re-election — should read A Very Stable Genius,23 a history of the Trump presidency. Its general outline is a familiar story: Trump is an ignorant egotist whose presidency is a danger to the country and to the world. The book’s principal contribution is to bring together in one place the many times he has demonstrated his unfitness. Having it all in one narrative has an impact that hearing about the same incidents, one at a time, does not. Also, by way of quotes and insider stories, it underscores just how disfunctional the White House is and how little has been done to educate or control Trump.
The third question is whether Republicans in Congress can move beyond their fetishes and help enact bold enough legislation to rescue the economy and provide support to those most impacted. Opposition to big government is one such fetish. The signs there are encouraging; the two rescue bills enacted to date passed the Republican-controlled Senate 90 to 8 and 96 to 1. Whether the pending, larger, bill will pass and whether Republicans will insist on business-friendly terms remains to be seen.
There is a segment of the economy that is doing well: gun sales are up. One disease supports another.
23. Philip Rucker and Carol Leonnig (2020)