Trump’s Coronavirus Focus Shifts to Reopening Economy, Defending His Response
President has sought to deflect political blame in shift toward addressing economic fallout from pandemic
President Trump warned the nation two weeks ago to expect the most difficult period of the coronavirus crisis that could involve hundreds of thousands of deaths.
The U.S. death toll has continued to rise since then, reaching a total of around 33,000, with record fatalities over a 24-hour period to Thursday. But stay-at-home measures and increased testing across the country have shown signs of slowing the pandemic’s rapid spread.
The economic damage from the shutdown has mounted as Americans cut retail spending by a record amount in March and industrial output dropped at its steepest rate in more than 70 years. Economists have signaled a recovery will likely be slow, and executives predict business operations won’t fully return to normal until a vaccine is deployed, estimated at least a year away.
As a result, Mr. Trump also has focused on issues other than the death toll during a crucial two weeks of his presidency: reopening the economy as quickly as is safely possible and responding to criticism of his administration’s handling of the crisis, according to advisers inside and outside the White House.
Those themes, discussed privately between the president and his advisers, have played out in public during Mr. Trump’s news conferences accompanied by members of the White House coronavirus task force. On Thursday he released guidelines on criteria the government wants states to meet before lifting economic restrictions, leaning toward health experts’ advice to proceed slowly despite pressure for a speedier return.
In recent weeks Mr. Trump has directed blame for the severity of the pandemic’s impact on factors including the media, China and what he has described as governors’ and his predecessors’ lack of preparedness.
In White House meetings with officials, advisers say, Mr. Trump has been bothered over how much blame he might get for the administration’s slow early response to the crisis, and pondered how to position himself and the administration to receive as much credit as possible in efforts to revive the economy.
He has asked White House aides for economic response plans that would allow him to take credit for successes while offering enough flexibility to assign fault for any failures to others. “People have made clear to him that’s an impossible goal, just two completely contradictory goals,” said one person in contact with the president. “But I’m not sure he’s convinced.”
Mr. Trump’s team has introduced measures to boost the economy that were also designed to insulate him from political damage as much as possible. Advisers said that was one purpose of creating a business advisory council on reopening the economy that is composed of hundreds of members from some of the biggest companies in the country. Another bipartisan task force includes every Republican in the Senate except Mitt Romney of Utah, the only senator of his party who voted to remove Mr. Trump from office during his impeachment trial earlier this year.
The president has discussed political ramifications extensively with top advisers including Jared Kushner, his senior adviser and son-in-law, among others. They have formed a consensus that criticism by Democrats, the media and others that the administration was slow to respond to the pandemic isn’t as potent if there is a strong counterargument that no one was well prepared.
Mr. Trump has used his news conferences to question China’s coronavirus data, which some epidemiologists and U.S. intelligence sources also suspect the country of under-reporting—something Chinese authorities deny. When asked about reports that unnamed administration officials believed the disease leaked from a virology lab in Wuhan, Mr. Trump—who has often criticized or dismissed news stories that quote anonymous aides—said, “now there’s a case where you can use the word ‘sources.’”
“We are doing a very thorough examination of this horrible situation,” he said Tuesday.
Mr. Trump has contrasted the per capita caseloads in the U.S. with other countries’ to show “we’re doing very well.” Testing for the virus hasn’t been uniform across the U.S. or globally, which affects case totals and per capita infection rates. Confirmed infections in the U.S. are the highest in the world at more than 672,000, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The president has halted U.S. funding to the World Health Organization, accusing it of withholding virus data to benefit China, which the agency denies. And he has repeatedly blamed his predecessors for shortages in medical stockpiles. “The cupboard was bare when I got here,” Mr. Trump said Monday, although he is nearly 39 months into his 48-month term. Earlier this month, he blamed the Obama administration for a Department of Health and Human Services inspector general report that found hospitals’ top complaint during the crisis has been a severe shortage of testing supplies.
Mr. Trump, who throughout his presidency has made a habit of calling up old associates and friends in the private sector to solicit their advice, has ramped up those calls in recent weeks. One adviser described him as a “shopper of advice” who seeks one opinion and bounces it off somebody else.
In recent calls, Mr. Trump has effusively praised Deborah Birx, the administration’s coronavirus coordinator, according to some people he has contacted.
Some other officials have criticized Dr. Birx over her projections for U.S. casualties, which showed the potential for 100,000 to 240,000 deaths even with social-distancing measures. In one private meeting, Dr. Birx directed officials to one model that showed the potential for 50,000 to 75,000 deaths, prompting some officials to question why that estimate wasn’t included in the public numbers. A spokesman for Dr. Birx later described that forecast as an outlier that was properly excluded.
A senior administration official said the higher estimate Dr. Birx ultimately provided publicly was helpful in convincing Americans to follow stricter guidelines and gave the administration some messaging flexibility.
Mr. Trump has also said he values the counsel of Anthony Fauci, the administration’s top infectious disease expert—though he said Dr. Fauci doesn’t understand how to give interviews properly. Dr. Fauci has acknowledged missteps by the administration, making him the rare official to do so and keep his job.
The president has called on the two health experts repeatedly at daily briefings to explain public-health guidelines and other initiatives to combat the pandemic. And he has relied on their private advice. Their preeminent positions in the hierarchy of presidential advisers reflect the sharp turn the administration has had to make.
Mr. Trump’s inner circle no longer views the economy as the top issue in his re-election campaign. That has been supplanted by his handling of the crisis and getting the country back to work, according to senior administration officials. Still, the president has privately voiced frustration about the rapid deflating of the economic boom—a theme he also has fretted about publicly during the past two weeks.
Democrats, Mr. Trump said April 6, “shouldn’t be allowed to win” November’s presidential race just because the contagion has routed the historic 10-year economic expansion and replaced it with an unprecedented surge in unemployment claims. More than 22 million Americans applied for jobless benefits in the past month. The previous record was 2.7 million, set in 1982.
Before the late-afternoon White House briefings, Mr. Trump spends about 30 minutes discussing the news of the day with Vice President Mike Pence, Mr. Kushner and members of his press team. Drs. Birx and Fauci are usually in the room.
Mr. Trump receives a copy of his statement, crafted by Mr. Kushner’s team with input from Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser, and Marc Short, Mr. Pence’s chief of staff, according to advisers. The president doesn’t rehearse his comments.
Aides say that with social-distancing guidelines prohibiting Mr. Trump from holding campaign rallies in arenas around the country, he has increasingly relied on his extended news conferences to release pent-up energy.
Over last weekend, advisers said, Mr. Trump was anxious that state governors, many of whom have been coordinating plans on lifting stay-at-home orders, would steal some of his media spotlight when it came to reopening the country.
“You can’t dismiss the impact these kinds of things have on him,” said one adviser. “He has enormous emotional reactions, and his view is he has to come out and fight every day, not to persuade the media or convince Democrats, but to talk directly to conservative media.”When Mr. Trump took the lectern Monday, it was the first time in 30 days he had gone two consecutive days without a news conference. In the 2½ hour briefing, he asserted “everything we did was right” and played a video that cast blame on the media for allegedly minimizing the risk of the virus. Mr. Trump also claimed his “authority is total” over governors and said the federal government would determine when to lift economic curbs.
That prompted calls from some conservative lawmakers urging him to retreat from that stance, according to people familiar with the matter, given that state and local governments have the most direct say. Mr. Trump subsequently said it was the governors’ responsibility to decide when to open their states, but the federal government issued a three-phase plan Thursday of criteria they should meet.
Mr. Trump called an adviser to ask if he had watched the performance. “He knew he had screwed up. He wasn’t admitting it,” the adviser said. A White House spokesman didn’t respond to a request for comment.
After his news conferences, Mr. Trump often retires to the dining room off the Oval Office. If he has left the briefing early, he doesn’t usually watch the end but checks for updates into the evening from Mark Meadows, his chief of staff, and Mr. Kushner.
Some advisers have urged the president to curtail his appearances at the briefings, saying he should spend 15 to 20 minutes at the lectern and leave the rest to other officials.
“You worry too much,” Mr. Trump told one adviser earlier this month.
Trump is weaponizing evangelicals’ mistrust. And he’s succeeding.
Are the dominant voices of white evangelical Christianity in the United States destined to be angry and defensive? Is President Trump making sure they stay that way?
I found myself asking these questions after I read my Post colleague Elizabeth Bruenig’s revealing and deeply reported essay about her journey to Texas to probe why evangelicals have been so loyal to Trump and are likely to remain so.
Hers was a venture in sympathetic understanding and empathetic listening. What she heard was a great desire to push back against liberals, to defend a world that sees itself under siege and to embrace Trump — not as a particularly good man but as a fighter against all of the things and people and causes that they cannot abide. Even more, they believe liberals and secularists are utterly hostile to the culture they have built and the worldview they embrace.“I think conservatives for decades have felt bullied by the left, and the default response was to roll over and take it,” said the Rev. Robert Jeffress, pastor of Dallas’s First Baptist church and one of the very earliest and most vocal leaders of Trump’s evangelical bloc.
I confess I don’t really see the “roll over” part. Conservative politicians, Fox News commentators and talk-radio hosts have engaged in plenty of bullying of their own. But I have no doubt that Jeffress was telling the truth about how he and like-minded folks feel.
This means that the nastiness that makes Trump so odious to many of us comes off to his evangelical Christian supporters (even when it makes them uneasy) as a hallowed form of militancy against what one evangelical whom Bruenig interviewed called “a den of vipers” engaged in what another called “spiritual warfare.”Bruenig summarized the approach to politics she kept running into as “focused on achieving protective accommodations against a broader, more liberal national culture.” She wondered whether conservative evangelical Christians will “continue to favor the rise of figures such as Trump, who are willing to dispense with any hint of personal Christian virtue while promising to pause the decline of evangelical fortunes — whatever it takes.”
What struck me in reading Bruenig’s chronicle is that the undoubtedly serious faith of those she encountered was less central to their embrace of Trump than a tribal feeling of beleaguerment — remember: Defending a culture is not the same as standing up for beliefs about God. Their deeply conservative views are not far removed from those of non-evangelical conservatives.
Above all, there was a Republican partisanship that has been around for a long time. In some cases, it goes back to 1964, when Lyndon B. Johnson’s embrace of civil rights incited many white Southerners, including evangelicals, to bolt the Democratic Party. In other cases, Republican loyalties were cemented by Ronald Reagan in 1980.We keep coming back to Trump’s white evangelical base because it seems so strange that religious people with strong moral convictions could embrace someone whose behavior violates so many of the norms they uphold. But party is a big deal these days, and there was nothing extraordinary about Trump’s share of the white evangelical vote. He won what Republican presidential candidates typically win. His 80 percentamong white evangelicals in 2016 was hardly a surge from Mitt Romney’s 78 percent in 2012.
In the end, party triumphed over any qualms evangelicals may have felt about the “Access Hollywood” candidate. Long-standing conservative desires (for sympathetic Supreme Court justices) and inclinations (a deep dislike of Hillary Clinton) reinforced what partisanship recommended.
I get why those with strongly held traditional religious views feel hostility from centers of intellectual life and the arts. More secular liberals should consider Yale philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff’s suggestion in “Religion in the University” that religious voices be welcomed at institutions of higher learning in much the same way the once-excluded perspectives of feminists and African Americans are now welcomed. One of the academy’s purposes is to bring those with different backgrounds and experiences into reasoned dialogue. Religious people must be part of that conversation.
But reasoned dialogue is far removed from what’s happening in our politics now, and the irony is that the Trumpification of the evangelicals will only widen the gaps they mourn between themselves and other parts of our society. In her recent book “America’s Religious Wars: The Embattled Heart of Our Public Life ,” Kathleen M. Sands, a University of Hawaii professor, writes of a long-standing conflict between “anti-modernist religion and anti-religious modernism.” Trump has every interest in aggravating and weaponizing mistrust that is already there. And judging from Bruenig’s account, he’s succeeding brilliantly.
How Conservatives Can Win Back Young Americans
(By Ben Shapiro)
Young Americans are moving to the left. On virtually every issue, they support the Democratic party.
.. among likely American voters aged 18-29, fully 65 percent supported Democratic control of Congress. Polls consistently show greater warmth for socialism among millennials than their elders, greater sympathy for regulation, and less interest in protecting core constitutional liberties ranging from freedom of speech to freedom of religion
.. “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 20, you have no heart; if you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 40, you have no brain.” We tell ourselves that as Americans age, get married, have children, and pay taxes, they’ll inevitably move to the right.
.. Older conservatives, clutching the Trump presidency like a security blanket, sound less like steady advocates for calm and more like the man questioned about how things are going just after jumping off the top of the Empire State Building: “So far, so good.”
.. among Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1980), 29 percent considered themselves liberal in 1994; today, that number has shot up to 43 percent.
..Typically, conservatives combat this sort of broad-based political change by pointing out the extremism of the left. During the Carter era, things certainly looked dark for the GOP, but conservatives were able to point out Carter’s incompetence; after Bill Clinton’s 1992 election victory, Republicans ran against Hillarycare and higher taxes; after Barack Obama’s landslide 2008 election, conservatives made war on Democrats’ overspending and regulatory overreach.
.. Thought leaders like Ta-Nehisi Coates have sought to replace the blue-collar base of Bill Clinton with the intersectional coalition of Barack Obama, using identity politics as a club against Americans who refuse to admit their “white privilege.”
.. Instead of looking at young Americans vs. older Americans, let’s look at young conservatives vs. older conservatives. The data show that young conservatives tend toward libertarianism on issues like drugs and sex but share the same priorities as older conservatives on fiscal and economic issues.
.. It makes sense, then, that liberal social values have resonated with younger Americans. They believe that the case for religious freedom is actually a case for religious bigotry and think that opposition to same-sex marriage reflects a hackneyed version of Old Testament sexual repression. Millennials were raised on the gospel of diversity and tolerance, not the Judeo-Christian moral standards of their grandparents.
.. But the leftward shift on social issues has infused even young religious conservatives. Forty-five percent of millennial evangelicals said they supported same-sex marriage as of 2014; the numbers are undoubtedly higher now
.. Young conservatives in general are far more likely to support gay rights and marijuana decriminalization as well as openness to immigration. But they’re not embracing gay rights and marijuana decriminalization for the same reasons as liberals. Young liberals embrace the LGBTQ agenda because they believe that the strictures of traditional sexual lifestyles are damaging and intolerant; some even embrace marijuana decriminalization because they think that broadening one’s experiences by smoking pot is a necessary precondition to maturity. Young conservatives are far more likely to support same-sex marriage and marijuana decriminalization because they believe that the government should leave everyone alone.
.. Young liberals call for tolerance because they want to promulgate a lifestyle, in other words; young conservatives call for tolerance because they actually believe in tolerance, even of lifestyle choices with which they disagree.
.. Tolerance is a moral touchstone, then, for young Americans on both the left and the right, but for different reasons.
.. All of which suggests young conservatives have a shot at winning over their friends and classmates: They’re operating in the same moral universe as many of their peers.
.. They’re small government, leave-everyone-alone libertarians. Young conservatives may not care about same-sex marriage, but they’re deeply pro-life and pro-gun.
.. They militantly oppose the myth of a racist, sexist America, even as they condemn individual cases of racism and sexism.
.. An incredible 82 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters between the ages of 18 and 24 say they “want another Republican to challenge President Trump for the party’s nomination in 2020.”
.. Why don’t young conservatives like Trump? It’s a question that baffles older conservatives. To older conservatives, Trump has been a savior.
.. Yes, he’s rough around the edges and impolitic; he’s crude about women and ignorant about policy. But he’s politically incorrect, and he speaks the language of the average American. What’s not to like?
.. Young conservatives, however, are more likely to see Trump as an obstacle to progress.
.. they see him mainly as a club the left can wield against the right in perpetuity—a political monster living under the bed that Democrats can dredge up every time conservatives seem to be making headway. They cite his egregious response to the Charlottesville alt-right march and subsequent terror attack and his willingness to wink and nod at the alt-right during the campaign; they point to his nasty comments regarding women, as well as his penchant for bedding porn stars; they cringe at his reported comments about immigrants and balk at his nearly endless list of prevarications.
.. Older conservatives judge Trump on his politics; younger conservatives judge Trump on his values.
.. older conservatives already fought the character battle over Bill Clinton, and they carry the scars from that ordeal. They remember arguing that Bill Clinton was unfit for office based on his treatment of women and his perjury, and they remember losing that argument. They remember arguing that character counts, even as Democrats held aloft the banner of “Lion of the Senate” Teddy Kennedy, who left a woman to drown in his car and made waitress sandwiches with fellow Democratic senator Chris Dodd.
.. Older conservatives remember Mitt Romney, the cleanest candidate for high office in modern American history, being destroyed by the media over pure nonsense. Older conservatives weren’t looking for character in 2016. They were looking for a hammer.
.. Younger conservatives, however, still feel that the battle over character is unfolding, which it is—among young Americans. Young Americans are still trying to decipher which party best reflects their moral values. Trump presents a serious problem for young conservatives trying to make the character argument in favor of the Republican party. Young conservatives didn’t see the battle of 2016 as a battle in which character had already lost. They saw it as presenting a question about their own character.
.. Young conservatives want to be able to tell their friends—all future voters, by the way—that they didn’t stand by silently when a candidate of their party said he could grab women by their private parts.
.. Second, older conservatives saw the 2016 election as a cataclysmic event, perhaps, indeed, the end of the republic. Hillary Clinton posed an existential threat to the future of the country.
.. They believed that Hillary, if elected, would usher in a generation-long rule of the hard left.
.. Donald Trump’s victory, in that view, was a miracle of biblical proportions, the hand of God reaching down and plucking a reality TV star out of the realms of cornball theatrics and plopping him into the Oval Office in the biggest upset in political history.
.. Younger conservatives were far more sanguine about 2016. In their view, Hillary would certainly have been a rotten president. But would she bar the door to all future conservative victories? Younger conservatives thought such an outcome unlikely.
After all, Republicans were likely to retain control of the Senate and the House.
Furthermore, Hillary was widely disliked, burdened by scandal, and unpopular even with her own base.
Older conservatives looked at young Americans and saw the end of the country; young conservatives looked at other young Americans and saw the possibility of change.
.. Third, because young conservatives and older conservatives disagreed about the consequences of 2016, they also disagreed about the level of risk to the Republican party.
.. Thanks to the crisis mentality of older Americans, the brand damage done by Trump became of secondary concern;
thanks to the lack of a crisis mentality among younger conservatives, the brand damage done by Trump became a crucial problem.
.. Young conservatives simply couldn’t understand how so many older conservatives were willing to dispose of key planks of the Republican platform to back Trump, or why so many older conservatives who had preached to them about personal values were suddenly gushing over a man who bragged about sleeping with other men’s wives.
.. Young conservatives knew that they were constantly being called racist, sexist, and homophobic by their comrades at school; they had always responded by saying that they and their party were being slandered. And they were right. But here was Trump—a man who, during the election cycle, feigned ignorance about David Duke—providing a custom-made caricature for the use of young liberals.
.. fourth area of controversy between older and younger conservatives regarding Trump: Is Trump an asset in the fight against political correctness?
.. 71 percent of Americans “believe that political correctness has silenced important discussions our society needs to have.”
.. Older conservatives resonate to the verbal brickbats thrown by President Trump. They see him as a bull in a china shop, but he is our bull in their china shop. That’s the reason Trump could so easily escape punishment for political snafus that would have crushed any other conservative. He routinely claimed his own blunderings were the result of his willingness to fight political correctness. “Sure, he says dumb stuff sometimes,” the argument goes, “but he’s also willing to label the New York Times fake news. Nobody else fights like Trump fights!”
.. Young conservatives, by contrast, see Trump’s strategy for fighting political correctness as counterproductive. It’s one thing to attack politically correct viewpoints with data —to “destroy,” in the common YouTube parlance, political opposition through superior intellectual heft. But saying innately offensive things and then justifying those offensive statements under the rubric of political incorrectness actually undermines the battle against political correctness.
.. The left wants to make the case that when conservatives say they’re being politically incorrect, they’re actually covering for their own bigotry; lending that case a helping hand by promoting bigotry under the guise of fighting political correctness does the left’s work for it.
.. conservatives must stop promoting the notion that policy victories translate to political victory. Foolishly hopeful Republican legislators keep repeating the tired nostrum that if they simply pursue solid policy, young Americans will follow—if they pass tax cuts, cut regulation, and build up the military, they’ll stave off the impending generational electoral tsunami.
.. That argument did little to stir older Americans who had been through the political wars; it didn’t upset seasoned politics-watchers who knew that Hillary Clinton was more than a little deplorable herself. But it worked among young Americans, and it will continue to work so long as conservatives’ response is “but Hillary.”
.. So, how should conservatives respond?
They should respond by acting morally and arguing morally.
First, and most pressingly, with regard to President Trump this means condemning bad behavior.
.. Young Americans aren’t judging Trump. They’ve already judged him. They’re judging you and determining whether or not they can ever vote for the same candidates you endorse based on whether or not they admire your character.
.. Second, conservatives must argue in moral terms, and they must use moral terminology young Americans understand. This means learning to argue on secular grounds rather than religious grounds and recognizing that tolerance is a key value to young Americans.
.. Arguing in secular terms doesn’t mean arguing without reference to values. It means arguing against the controlling hand of the left. Capitalism is good because you own your own labor and you have the right to exchange that labor for someone else’s labor and no one has the right to steal your labor from you. Socialism is evil because it says that a third party can tell you what your labor is worth.
.. Political correctness and identity politics are evil because they utilize censorship to box you into a group identity that denies your individuality.
.. Most of all, conservatives can’t lose hope. A crisis mentality breeds poor decisions and short-term thinking that sacrifices long-term interests. We’ve seen discouraging trendlines before. But they can be reversed. In 1976, it would have been difficult to imagine the Reagan Revolution that was just four years away.