President Donald Trump has taken heat from all sides for his messaging around the coronavirus, with even conservative allies calling on him to stop tweeting and let the task force he created do its work.
The stock market took its worst tumble since 2008 due to the coronavirus Monday moring, and Trump took the opportunity to downplay the virus’ seriousness by comparing it to the seasonal flu. From the outset, Trump has insisted that “the risk to the American public remains low.” But will Trump’s all-is-well approach work for him as the disease continues to spread and the economy keeps taking hits? Many of his conservative allies think not.
“He’s panicked. That’s why he’s acting against his own interests, and the country’s,” said one of Trump’s most trusted-out of office confidants, who asked to remain anonymous.
Trump should recall Herbert Hoover’s desperate attempts to project normalcy and calm during the Great Depression
It was the exact opposite of what Americans wanted and he will a huge price if his rhetoric does not change https://t.co/1EkO4Y7Rwz
— Saagar Enjeti (@esaagar) March 9, 2020
Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro criticized Trump’s messaging as undercutting the very task force he created to handle the cornavirus. (RELATED: More Voters Disapprove Of Trump’s Response To Coronavirus)
If Trump supposedly handed off coronavirus handling to Pence, then STOP TWEETING. This is a time when chaotic leadership is a serious problem, both for the country and for Trump’s re-election prospects.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) March 9, 2020
Shapiro’s comment came after a debacle earlier Monday morning when Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar appeared on Fox News and assured viewers, “This is a very serious health problem. No one is going to minimize that.”
Minutes later, Trump sent a tweet implying the coronavirus was small fry compared to the seasonal flu.
So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 9, 2020
This drew the veiled ire of Fox News Host Tucker Carlson on Monday night, who used his show to bash officials for doing precisely what the president had done hours earlier.
“People you trust, people you probably voted for, have spent weeks minimizing what is clearly a very serious problem,” Carlson said. “‘It’s just partisan politics,’ they say. ‘Calm down. In the end this was just like the flu and people die from that every year. Coronavirus will pass.'”
“We get it. But they’re wrong,” Carlson added. “It’s definitely not just the flu.”
While Trump has continued to tout his early decision to restrict travel from China and emphasize that “the risk to the American public remains low,” the weight of that message has waned since February. Instead, Trump’s words have often come across as an attempt to paint his coronavirus task force’s real conclusions in a more sympathetic light. (RELATED: Poll: More Voters Disapprove Of Trump’s Coronavirus Response)
The day before Trump held his first press conference addressing the disease on February 26th, his task force held one of its own. Azar made two things clear: The U.S. had technically contained the virus, having not found any new cases in nearly two weeks; but that further infections were “not a matter of if, but when” as outbreaks grew across the world and the government’s ability to prevent entry of infected travelers diminished.
“Community spread in other countries will make successful containment at our borders harder and harder,” Azar said at the time. “That’s why we’ve already been working closely with state, local, and private sector partners to prepare for mitigating the virus’s potential spread in the United States, because we will likely see more cases here as we have said throughout this episode.”
When Trump took the stage the following day, the facts he cited were largely the same, but his emphasis changed. Now, the coronavirus was completely contained, and there was only some possible risk that new cases might be discovered. (RELATED: Neil Patel: The President’s Coronavirus Position Is Dangerous)
“When you have 15 people, and the 15, within a couple of days, is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done,” he said.
Trump’s comments have also led to some embarrassing press conference moments for Azar. Trump spoke at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters Friday and claimed that “anyone who wants a test can get a test.”
Azar had to walk the statement back at a Saturday briefing, clarifying that the CDC was merely not preventing people from getting tests, not that there were enough tests for anyone who wanted one.
“What the president said yesterday at the CDC, that is consistent with what the FDA and the CDC are saying, which is we as regulators, or as those shipping the test, are not restricting who can get tested,” Azar said. “We are leaving that to the professional judgment of doctors and public health officials.”
“What he meant to say is we’re not in the way of that,” he continued. “And he knows the numbers. We brief him daily.”
Republican Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has also critiqued the president on this front, saying the things he hears from Trump “sometimes conflict with the information we’re getting from the rest of the administration.”
“He at times just says whatever comes to mind or tweets, then someone on TV is saying the opposite,” Hogan told the Washington Post. “It’s critically important that the message is straightforward and fact-based for the public.”
This wouldn’t be the first time Trump’s brash communication style has gotten in the way of his subordinates, however. In February, Attorney General Bill Barr publicly criticized Trump for tweeting about the Roger Stone criminal case.
In that instance, Trump acknowledged that “I do make his job harder.”