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Coronavirus: Trump rejecting responsibility could cost lives and re-election



  • President Donald Trump has taken an anti-responsibility approach to the coronavirus pandemic. 
  • In mid-March, Trump said he doesn’t take “responsibility at all” for testing failures, and has continued to adopt this tone when challenged about the federal government’s shortcomings in preparing for and responding to coronavirus. 
  • Trump’s approach could backfire spectacularly, as the number of infected Americans continues to rise with the death toll, and the economy continues to suffer from the restrictions put in place due to the pandemic.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

“I don’t take responsibility at all.”

That was President Donald Trump on March 13, declining to take responsibility for a nationwide shortage in testing kits for the novel coronavirus that put the US way behind other nations in responding to the virus. 

Those six words encapsulate how Trump has largely approached the coronavirus pandemic: He has shirked any semblance of responsibility, lashed out at those who’ve sought to hold him accountable, attempted to rewrite the history of his bungled response, and scapegoated or blamed others for the myriad failures of his administration and the federal government. 

The president has often taken such an approach to crises. Though it was clear he pressured a foreign leader to dig up dirt on a political opponent in a July 25 phone call that contributed to his impeachment, for example, Trump has maintained the conversation was “perfect.”

In many cases, this strategy seems to have worked. Trump has managed to maintain the loyalty of his base and congressional Republicans, despite numerous crises and scandals of his own making and an unorthodox style of leadership.

But coronavirus is different. Trump can’t hide the devastating toll of a pandemic with disinformation, nor can he contend the economy is in excellent shape when over 10 million have recently filed for unemployment and over 700,000 jobs were lost in March.

As Trump rejects calls to provide more ventilators and other aid to states, contending governors should’ve done more to prepare, the death toll across the country has continued to rise. In remarks that are already haunting Trump, the president in late February claimed the number of coronavirus cases in the US would be “close to zero” in a “couple of days.” 

Fast-forward to April 7, and there were well over 380,000 reported cases of coronavirus in the US, and at least 11,000 people have died. 

The full scale of the economic slump appears severe but is still unclear as the virus spreads. Per his typical playbook, Trump is likely to blame his rivals and perhaps even his own public health experts for the fallout and to tout unverified tales and even deliberate disinformation to defend himself. How much voters will hold Trump responsible for his administration’s disastrous early response is the key question come November.

Trump is engaging in self-sabotage, but he doesn’t seem to realize it

Trump’s refusal to take responsibility for almost any aspect of the government’s coronavirus response could not only cost more lives, but also derail his chances of a second term. 

“It will not merely be the case of ‘Did he see us through this?'” Duke University political scientist Peter Feaver, who served as a special adviser for strategic planning on the National Security Council under President George W. Bush, recently told CNN. “What will also matter is: ‘Did he get us into this, through stumbles, acts of omission and commission?'”

“If the Democrats can make a credible case that we ended up in the pandemic through mismanagement, or that a problem that could have been moderate-sized became major-sized because we were slow to act and minimizing the problem, the attack ads write themselves,” Feaver added. “If that message sinks in, the public could simultaneously say, ‘the President finally figured out to how to beat this, but he got us into it in the first place.'”

Insider polling has shown that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, are the most trusted leaders in the country amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Cuomo, unlike Trump, has welcomed the notion of taking responsibility for his handling of coronavirus, which has hit New York far harder than any other US state. 

“Why is New York taking these drastic actions? We know what a locality does matters,” Cuomo said in March while discussing his decision to shut down nonessential businesses in the state. “These actions will cause disruption. They will cause businesses to close…They will cause much unhappiness. I understand that…And I accept full responsibility. If someone wants to blame someone, blame me. There is no one else responsible for this decision.”

New York Go. Andrew Cuomo, left, speaks as he stands beside Rear Adm. John B. Mustin after the arrival of the USNS Comfort, a naval hospital ship with a 1,000 bed-capacity, Monday, March 30, 2020, at Pier 90 in New York. The ship will be used to treat New Yorkers who don't have coronavirus as land-based hospitals fill up with and treat those who do. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

New York Go. Andrew Cuomo, left, speaks as he stands beside Rear Adm. John B. Mustin after the arrival of the USNS Comfort, a naval hospital ship with a 1,000 bed-capacity, Monday, March 30, 2020, at Pier 90 in New York. The ship will be used to treat New Yorkers who don’t have coronavirus as land-based hospitals fill up with and treat those who do. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Associated Press

Americans are becoming concerned about coronavirus and the economy, which could hurt Trump in November.

A little less than half of Americans (48%) approve of Trump’s response to coronavirus, according to a FiveThirtyEight analysis of polling on the subject, while 46% disapprove. These aren’t abysmal numbers for Trump, whose overall approval rating has remained low but also steady through his tumultuous presidency. But coronavirus is a different beast, and could hurt Trump in entirely new ways.

The percentage of Americans who have said they are “somewhat” or “very” concerned about infection has risen steadily over the course of the past month. On March 1, about 43% of Americans expressed concern on some level that they, someone in their family, or someone else they know will become infected with the coronavirus. By April 1, that was up to 68%. 

At the same time, concern about the economy — one of the few arenas Trump has often received strong approval numbers in — has skyrocketed. On March 1, about 29% of Americans said they’re “very” concerned about coronavirus’s effect on the US economy, and that jumped up to roughly 55% within a month, FiveThirtyEight found. 

In short, Trump has done little to assuage concerns among Americans about their health or the economy, and voters could make him pay at the ballot box come November. 

But Trump has shown no signs of abating his anti-responsibility style of leadership as the crisis worsens in the US. 

Trump doesn’t want to be held accountable, he wants to be praised even amid failure.

The federal government bungled its early response to coronavirus, placing the US in an awful position to understand and combat the coronavirus outbreak. This is largely due to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sending out faulty testing kits in February. The US has struggled to employ a robust system of testing ever since, with Americans across the country reporting that they’ve struggled to be tested even when exhibiting symptoms. 

On top of this, Trump has rejected calls from governors for crucial medical supplies. In the absence of sufficient help from the federal government under Trump’s leadership, New York recently accepted lifesaving ventilators from China.

But Trump has repeatedly rejected clear signs that the US government fell short in terms of preparing for and handling coronavirus, while scapegoating others.

The president in late January suggested Democrats were politicizing the virus, referring to it as their “new hoax.”

As the virus began to spread widely in the US, Trump shifted to calling it the “Chinese virus” while blaming the Chinese government for the outbreak (after previously praising Chinese President Xi Jinping over his handling of the virus).

Trump has also pointed the finger at the Obama administration, claiming he inherited a “broken testing system,” even though the virus did not exist until roughly three months ago. 

This week, Trump has dismissed a recent report from the Department of Health and Human Services’ inspector general, warning of severe supplies shortages for hospitals in the US, including testing kits and safety gear for physicians.

On Monday, the president said the US is doing an “incredible job” handling testing, and lashed out at an ABC News reporter who questioned him about the report.


Meanwhile, Trump wants more applause on his handling of the pandemic. 

“You should say congratulations, great job, instead of being so horrid in the way you ask a question,” Trump said to a Fox News reporter on Monday as she questioned him about testing shortages. 

“States are supposed to be doing testing. Hospitals are supposed to be doing testing,” Trump said. “We’re the federal government. We’re not supposed to be standing on street corners doing testing. They go to doctors. They go to hospitals.”

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