Trump's "Shut It Down" Self-Own
The Republicans are planning to hit Biden for taking COVID too seriously
Here’s what we know about the Republican Convention: Trump will speak every night potentially illegally from the White House. It will feature potentially illegal appearances from White House staff. And there will also be an intense focus on a perfectly reasonable recent comment from Joe Biden.
In an interview with ABC’s David Muir that aired Sunday night, Biden said he would shut the country down to stop the spread of COVID-19 if his scientific advisors recommended that course of action.
The Republicans that failed for months to lay a glove on Biden saw an opportunity and leapt into action. Trump quickly tweeted. Mediocre Republican consultants were promising attack ads. Fox News got their marching orders and treated Biden’s anodyne comments like a major story. The online MAGA grifters tweeted about how damaging this quote will be to Biden’s campaign.
Trump and the Republicans focusing on this quote shows how disconnected they are from the public. Biden didn’t commit a gaffe. What he told Muir was not only good policy, it was good politics. The only people who don’t get that are the Republican politicians and strategists whose brains have been pickled by Fox News.
The Public is On Biden’s Side
Trump’s biggest political problem — the reason he is trailing by a historic margin — is the perception that he is not taking the virus seriously enough. Attacking Biden for taking the virus too seriously is indicative of the larger problem for Trump and the Republicans.
Ultimately the best way for Trump to improve his political position would be to stop tweeting dumb things, do his job, and get the virus under control like most of the rest of the world. He is, of course, temperamentally and intellectually incapable of adopting that strategy. Instead, Trump has spent the last six months saying that a cabal of scientists, the media, and Democratic elected officials are overstating the dangers and over-torquing the response to hurt him politically — because in his mind a pandemic that has killed 180,000 Americans is mostly about him.
The focus on the Biden quote is emblematic of why Trump is in such a putrid political position. The American public wants to err on the side of caution. They want to do more, not less, to get the virus under control. Unlike Trump, they understand that the more we do now, the sooner we can return to normal.
Trump has sided with armed, un-masked protestors storming state capitols demanding their constitutional rights to go to bars and movie theaters. He has blamed anyone and everyone for forcing shut downs that hurt the economy. He has demanded that schools re-open against the advice of teachers and scientists.
While most Americans are staying home and only venturing out when necessary with a mask on, Trump is traveling the country, holding rallies, and staging unmasked photo ops.
Trump believes all of this activity projects confidence and normalcy. Instead, it is a daily reminder of his detachment and delusion about the biggest crisis this country has faced in nearly a century.
According to the Navigator CoronaVirus Tracking poll:
83 percent think we should continue current levels of social distancing or do more. Even 30 percent of Republicans want more aggressive social distancing policies;
62 percent of respondents and 41 percent of Republicans are worried social distancing measures will end too soon;
57 percent of the public believe the worst of the pandemic is yet to come;
The public disapproves of the way Trump is handling the pandemic by a margin of 17 points and his approval rating on the issue of re-opening schools is 19 points underwater;
Dr. Fauci — the scientist that Biden would presumably be taking advice from in the hypothetical scenario in the ABC interview — is one of the most trusted public figures in America. Two-thirds of the country have a favorable opinion of Fauci.
To make a long story short, Trump is planning to spend his convention attacking Biden for doing the exact thing large majorities of the country want him to do. You don’t need to be a campaign expert to know that is probably not a wise course of action,
A Note of Caution
Because I worry about everything, I am not satisfied to simply take the political gift that Trump wants to give us without a measure of concern. The Republicans have a massive platform this week to make hay with Biden’s very reasonable comments. The challenge for the Biden campaign — and all of us — is that sometimes a press corps desperate for a change in storyline will give too much weight to the inconsequential. Voters that are paying minimal attention won’t see what Biden actually said. They will just see a bunch of noise that suggests he might have made a mistake.
We can all help the Biden campaign by pushing back against Trump’s attempts to distort Biden’s comments. First, sharing the actual video of the remarks will help. Too many of the headlines about the remarks lack the context that Biden would “shut it down” only at the recommendation of scientific and medical experts.
Second, Trump is leading with his chin by attacking Biden on COVID, so Democrats shouldn’t miss an opportunity to punch him right in the mouth. The best messaging about Trump and the pandemic includes the following elements:
While most of the rest of the world has been able to slow the spread of COVID, the U.S., under Trump’s leadership, has failed.
Trump is too focused on himself and his reelection to deal with the pandemic appropriately.
Trump is ignoring the advice of medical experts like Dr. Fauci when he pushes to re-open schools and reduce social distancing measures.
Trump’s failures have led to more infections, more deaths, and a bigger hit on the economy.
The central issue in the election is Donald Trump’s historic failure to prepare for and respond to the virus. We must remain vigilant and keep the pressure on, but Trump’s attempts to project normalcy and attack Democrats continually backfire. Every time he opens his mouth or ventures out, Trump inadvertently reaffirms the biggest concerns that voters have about him. His attacks on Biden’s “shut it down” comment are just the latest example.
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