By this point it has become nearly impossible for anybody but the president’s most fanatical supporters to maintain that he has actually handled the coronavirus appropriately. Instead they have turned in desperation to a kind of counterpunching argument: Anybody who criticizes Trump’s behavior is rooting for him to fail.
“It is unfortunate seeing some partisans use this for political purposes,” scolds Senator Ted Cruz. “You can see the media trying to turn it politically … the media is gleeful to see — see the president stumble in how he handled it.” (Realizing that he had just admitted that Trump stumbled, Cruz then immediately segued into fulsome praise for his bold decision to stop travel from China.)
Trump himself has, for the moment, turned away from denying the problem, issuing false claims about his alleged success in preventing it, and spreading dangerous misinformation to earnestly proposing we all rally together and stop pointing fingers at anybody, especially him:
A longer version of this argument also appears in National Review’s editorial. The headline, “President Trump Needs to Step Up on the Coronavirus,” captures its chin-up, you-can-do-it-champ spirit. The conservative magazine’s editors concede that Trump has worsened the crisis with a series of errors, but wrap the criticism, praise-sandwich style, in an indictment of his critics. While every American “should” want Trump to succeed, they argue, “Those who seem eager to see the president fail and to call every administration misstep a fiasco risk letting their partisanship blind them to the demands not only of civic responsibility but of basic decency.”
Neither Cruz nor Trump nor National Review cites even a single example of a Trump critic actually rooting for him to fail. It’s a big country, and probably somebody is rooting for Trump to fail at the job of containing a deadly pandemic. I strongly doubt more than a handful of even the most dedicated Trump haters are so dedicated to his downfall that they are eager to subject themselves or their loved ones to horrible pain or death.
The accusation of cheering for failure is doubly ironic. For one thing, House Democrats have behaved in a highly responsible fashion, rushing to compose and pass an emergency plan to stimulate the economy and help workers take needed steps to avoid spreading the virus. They have not demanded pay-fors, unlike the Republican opposition to President Obama, which stymied even popular measures by conditioning them on the impossible demand of locating mutually agreeable measures to cut spending or raise taxes. Democrats are acting like a party that is trying to prevent a social and economic crisis, even though such a crisis would play into their hands politically.
For another thing, Trump himself engaged in gleeful and irresponsible fearmongering when the shoe was on the other foot. When the Ebola crisis struck in 2014, Trump and right-wing media organs like Fox News fomented panic and charged the Obama administration with incompetence — even though Obama handled the outbreak deftly and without any American deaths. Obama even bequeathed to Trump a high-functioning team of pandemic experts, which Trump in turn dissolved. Trump and his allies are, characteristically, projecting their own bad faith onto the opposition.
The charge that Democrats and the media are rooting for the virus is meant to force out of the public debate any connection between Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and his general unfitness for office. Yes, ideally, he will grasp that his self-interest requires him to defer to his public-health experts (the ones he hasn’t driven out of the administration), and ideally his allies will coax him into following their advice as closely as he is capable of. To direct all of our energy into rooting for him to knock it out of the park for America, though, is to ignore the obvious connections. Trump has bungled and lied his way through the crisis because he is a bungling liar.