“Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won,” Trump, who last week repeatedly suggested that win was near, said Sunday, extending restrictions due to expire on Monday for another month at least.
He also bizarrely appeared to accuse health workers of stealing surgical masks amid huge shortages brought on by terrible conditions in hospitals and accused states of “hoarding” ventilators. Trump also boasted about his own TV ratings.
At a desperate moment in America’s modern history, Trump appears to continue to be focused intently on his own political image, claiming personal credit and remaining highly sensitive to any form of criticism.
Trump’s reversal appeared to be the latest occasion when his officials have brought flattery and the power of argument to bear to change his mind on leadership decisions that were apparently based on hunches and limited reasoning.
Trump concedes death toll could be 100,000 or more
Even that figure seems characteristically optimistic. “We should be so lucky,” Rhode Island emergency physician Megan Ranney told CNN, pointing out that only even if social distancing were adopted nationwide now, two weeks was probably not sufficient for all of the most critical cases to emerge.
He had been desperate to start some county-by-county opening of the economy in the days to come. But the President’s decision — potentially a turning point in the nation’s fight against the pandemic — appears to have followed concerted lobbying by two top public health officials, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx.
Trump predicted his decision would save hundreds of thousands of lives, in an apparent moving of the political goalposts to account for the fast worsening US pandemic.
“2.2 million people would have died if we didn’t do what we are doing,” the President said.
“If we can hold that number down … to 100,000, it’s a horrible number, maybe even less … we all, all together have done a very good job,” Trump said.
The new April 30 date marks yet another reversal of position on the pandemic by the President, who last week made clear he did not pick the Easter date, April 12, based on data but because it was a “beautiful timeline.” Shrugging off his row back, Trump claimed Sunday that Easter had only been an “aspirational date.”
Almost no one, who closely followed the science, modeling and data — including governors, health experts and commentators thought Trump’s original timeline was smart.
“I think it’s entirely conceivable that if we do not mitigate to the extent we are trying to do is that you could reach that number,” Fauci said at the White House news conference.
He described Trump’s decision as a wise and prudent one.
Earlier on Sunday, Trump’s rationale for a county-by-county reopening of the economy was undercut by comments from his top official.
“I’m not against releasing the restrictions. I’m actually for it in an appropriate place. But I don’t recommend it unless we have the tools in place in real time,” Fauci said.
Birx also undermined the rationale for Trump’s plan to put in place new recommendations for social distancing after options were presented to him during the weekend.
“We all are deeply concerned and why we’ve been raising the alert in all metro areas and in all states,” Birx said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
“No state, no metro area will be spared,” Birx said. “At this moment, we are asking every single governor and every single mayor to prepare like New York is preparing now.”
Pelosi claims Trump ‘fiddles’ while people die
The darkening mood over the pandemic did not convince Trump to moderate his extreme political rhetoric.
On Sunday, two journalists, Yamiche Alcindor of the PBS NewsHour and CNN’s Jeremy Diamond, read the President’s own controversial comments back to him — which he denied in real-time on television.
“We’re getting the word out. We’re getting the accurate word out,” Trump told reporters.
In another example of the President being corrected, he said last week on Fox News that he just didn’t believe calls for 30,000 new ventilators, apparently referring to warnings of a shortage of the life saving equipment from New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Fauci effectively corrected Trump on Sunday.
“I tend to believe Governor Cuomo,” Fauci told CNN.
“One way or the other, he needs the ventilators that he needs. And, hopefully, we will get him the ventilators that he needs.”
The generational challenge of the coronavirus pandemic would have tested any administration. And any President would have racked up failures under such intense pressure.
But Trump’s incessantly confusing positions, claims of huge personal success and willingness to politicize are raising scrutiny of his own administration’s performance.
His litany of false statements and misleading statistics — for instance his claim the US had tested far more people than South Korea — even though on a per capita basis the US figure is far lower, also focus criticism on his handling of the situation.
The President again celebrating what he says is the low mortality rate in the US comes across as in poor taste when the death toll in the United States is soaring.
Trump is not the only senior political leader willing to inject explosive political language into the debate.
“The President, his denial at the beginning, was deadly. His delaying of getting equipment to where it — it continues, his delay in getting equipment to where it’s needed is deadly,” Pelosi told Jake Tapper on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“As the President fiddles, people are dying and we have to, we just have to take every precaution,” Pelosi said.