This is the moment when mettle is challenged and leadership is tested, when rifts of public division give way to calls for collective unity.
At the White House press briefing Wednesday night, the President of the United States measured up to this moment by proclaiming America will marshal what it has best (knowledge, expertise, ability) with what it does best (finding remedies to challenges that impact everyone).
It was a master class in crisis communications, where information is shared, questions are answered and future action spelled out.
As the coronavirus hit the world community like a ton of bricks, moving from a place on the planet few have ever heard of, to others (Italy, Japan, Brazil) more central to our shared experience in life, the president and his team prepared to hit the crisis of a pandemic head-on.
Not with vacuous press releases, but informed private briefings; not with hysteria, but sober thought and schooled analysis guided by those who deal with public health around the clock.
The decision to make Vice President Mike Pence the point person for this effort, not by calling him the “coronavirus czar” but by giving him real authority to pull our best together to meet the threat, was both timely and well-advised. It ensures the President will be on top of an issue that goes to his primary directive: keeping Americans safe.
His supporting troupe feels like they are right out of central casting – HHS Secretary Alex Azar, an articulate task force leader with medical stripes; Anne Schuchat, a CDC veteran who looks like the female incarnation of Doc Welby; and NIH stalwart Dr. Anthony Fauci, who’s all business when it comes to developing vaccines that save lives.
Together, they addressed the primary concerns over testing, containment, quarantine, the need for surveillance and the use of therapeutics while waiting for cures to come on line. They understand that finding answers begins by asking the right questions.
Given the mere threat of a pandemic can surrender calm to pandemonium,
In Washington, however, some see a health scare as an opening to fuel friction and settle scores. Speaker Pelosi said this week the President “doesn’t know what he is talking about.” Her political co-conspirator Chuck Schumer piled on, trying to one-up Trump over who has the bigger budget request. Their pettiness is pathetic even by Washington standards.
Meanwhile, the president called on both to join America’s team over their own by offering less hyperbole and more hope. Time will tell whether either Pelosi or Schumer get it or choose to continue gushing the kind of crude gauche designed to tear us apart.
The president also used his bully pulpit to call out certain members of the press who were more determined to embarrass him with gotcha questions than enlighten the public with information they need to stay safe. One member of the press set out to demean the president over his comment that nothing about the spread of Covid-19 is “inevitable.” Trump countered no one knows, but that we will be prepared, whatever comes. Another asked why no one was proclaimed the coronavirus “czar,” as if a title confers confidence or wisdom. Then there was the intemperate inquisitor who skewered the president over a travel ban that now appears to have saved American lives; that press flack should have known better than to go there.
As a Floridian who understands the horrifying force of hurricanes, I witnessed how effectively Jeb Bush (and more recently Rick Scott) measured up when the moment was upon them. Ever-present before, during, and long after the winds had passed, Bush and Scott informed, re-informed, and reinforced the public. They looked us in the eye and said that by banding together no force of nature would ever get the better of us. It’s akin to a parent telling their children not to worry, that they’re safe, that all will be well.
This was real time leadership at its best.
The President and his team are prepared to do the same…with a grateful nation set to rally behind them.
Adam Goodman is an award-winning national Republican media strategist who has advised Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Jeb Bush. He is the first Edward R. Murrow Senior Fellow at Tufts University. Follow him on Twitter: @adamgoodman3