After being famously dismissive of the threat posed by the coronavirus pandemic as it grew larger and more lethal for months, President Trump has more or less behaved himself for about a week. Holding daily briefings in which he has accepted and even encouraged drastic steps by state and local governments to reduce exposure to COVID-19, Trump has also allowed his agents to work on relief and recovery legislation unlike anything a Republican president has ever contemplated. Yes, he keeps trying to rewrite his own tardy record on the pandemic and occasionally goes off script to attack media critics and Democrats, all while struggling to merge his bellicose rhetoric on fighting the virus with his accustomed xenophobia. But he’s let actual public-health experts (most conspicuously Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases) steer the country toward the kind of serious measures necessary to avoid hundreds of thousands, if not millions of deaths.
But now there are already signs Trump is becoming impatient with responsible conduct and wants to end broadscale quarantine efforts in order to get the economy going again in time for the November elections. Axios has the alarming story:
President Trump and some of his senior officials are losing patience with the doctors’ orders …
Amid dire predictions for jobs and the economy, the White House is beginning to send signals to business that there’s light at the end of the tunnel — that the squeeze from nationwide social distancing won’t be endless.
The end of that tunnel isn’t far off at all, suggests the president’s Twitter account:
That 15-day period, mind you, is not a window beginning today, but on March 16, when Trump first embraced social distancing. At that point, he admitted the virus might still rage until July and August, but called for 15 days of stern and sacrificial efforts to begin to flatten the curve of new cases. Now, it looks like he’s thinking of it as the end of a quasi-national quarantine rather than its beginning:
And as Axios notes, the signals of a coronavirus retreat are coming from other administration sources as well:
Vice President Pence, who heads the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, had signaled the change in tone earlier when he said the CDC will issue guidance today allowing people exposed to the coronavirus to return to work sooner by wearing a mask for a certain length of time …
Senior Trump officials, including the president himself, have only limited patience for keeping the economy shut down. They are watching stocks tumble and unemployment skyrocket …
At the end of the 15-day period, there will likely be a serious clash between the public health experts — who will almost certainly favor a longer period of nationwide social distancing and quarantining — versus the president and his economic and political aides, who are anxious to restart the economy.
There’s not much question where Trump’s MAGA base — which took a while to adjust to Trump’s earlier “pivot” towards responsible leadership — is going to come down in this conflict:
If Congress continues to struggle enacting economic stimulus legislation while markets tumble, you have to figure Trump will become more determined to deal with the crisis by very simply calling it off.