In a column for Politico, founding editor John F. Harris claims Donald Trump’s presidency is on the verge of “breakdown” because of the speed with which the COVID-19 pandemic has paralyzed the country which has, in turn, put his inability to manage a crisis on full display for the country to see.
Pointing out Trump is now finding the “currents of history shifting violently” against him, Harris suggests that the president’s primary weapons to use against his opponents will fail when it comes to dealing with a national health crisis.
“Trump emphatically has faced real opposition, and reveled in it, on his path to power. But he has met earlier chapters of adversity, in politics and business, with reliance on traits—bluster, defiance, implacable self-promotion—that, however unorthodox, served him quite well in the old context,” the columnist wrote before adding, “Now the context has changed but—so far—Trump has not, or to the extent he has tried it has not lasted more than a few hours at a time. Admirers and foes alike have become so casually accustomed to this president’s shattering of norms in a contemporary political setting that people easily miss how bizarre these circumstances are in historical terms.”
As Harris sees it, Trump’s attempts to calm the waters and deal with the pandemic have exposed his biggest shortcoming just months before he faces re-election.
“In just the past few days (who keeps track of time in self-quarantine?) Trump has gone from shocking his own health experts with a prediction that church pews would be filled and the country ‘raring to go’ by Easter to extending the national shutdown through April. He has questioned whether governors are exaggerating their need for medical equipment and then indignantly denied saying that the next day. He has boasted of the television ratings for his coronavirus briefings,” he explained.
“There is a difference between the current moment and the pre-corona past. Previously his most flamboyant behavior was, for many of his admirers, an essential part of his appeal, he wrote before warning, “It is unlikely that many Trump supporters are genuinely enthusiastic about his parade of errant statements on coronavirus, from the claim in late February that the number of U.S. cases ‘within a couple of days is going to be down close to zero,’ to his insistence earlier this month that, ‘Anybody that needs a test, gets a test,’ even as the person shepherding the administration’s response, Vice President Mike Pence, was saying,’“we don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.'”
“The coronavirus drama, with 180,000 cases, rather than the 15 at the time Trump made his ‘close to zero’ prediction, is still closer to the beginning than the end,” he explained. “With some lucky breaks, combined with the policy shifts he and his health team have made, he could yet retain his title as the Houdini of his era.”
However, he explained, short of getting some “lucky breaks” the president could see his brief political career comes to a quick close.
“Without those breaks, however, he could easily end up keeping company historically with Hoover (who promised that ‘prosperity is around the corner’) and Lyndon B. Johnson (whose Vietnam generals fantasized about ‘light at the end of the tunnel’) as presidents who arrived in office with outsized personalities that shriveled as they failed to meet the political, practical, ultimately psychic needs of a nation in crisis,” he wrote.
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