Trump is throwing Georgia under the bus
President Trump's leadership has always been inconsistent and erratic. He takes a position one day, only to reverse himself the next. This has been frustrating since the beginning of his tenure, but now, it is positively dangerous to Americans trying to survive during a global pandemic — and it is a threat to the futures of local politicians trying to follow his lead.
Trump's tendency to flip-flop was on display Wednesday at his daily news briefing. After days of signalling his support for protesters who are trying to get their states to lift quarantine conditions, the president suddenly reversed course, criticizing Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R), who earlier this week announced his state is lifting its lockdown.
"Would I do that? No," Trump told reporters. "But I'm going to let him make his decision, but I told him, I totally disagree."
You couldn't blame Kemp for being confused. Last week, Trump unveiled his administration's official guidelines for states to return to normalcy when the pandemic subsides, but then almost immediately undermined those guidelines by tweeting his support — "LIBERATE Michigan!" — for anti-lockdown demonstrators in states run mostly by Democratic governors.
"They have got cabin fever," Trump said about the protesters Sunday. "They want their life back. Their life was taken away from them."
Considering Trump's comments, plus congressional Republicans' refusal to approve aid for states and cities — an attempt to incentivize local leaders to reopen their economies — you could almost understand why a GOP stalwart like Kemp thought the smart political thing to do would be to go ahead, despite the recommendations of health experts, and try to put this state back to business.
But Kemp should've known better.
Among the president's defining characteristics is a certain malleability — he has shifted, on a dime, on issues like DACA, Syria, and health care. His positions are based on whatever he believes gives him an advantage in the moment, and attempts to hold him to account for these inconsistencies are often met with lies and bluster.
And it's only gotten worse since the pandemic arrived. The president has flipped frequently between pushing to end quarantine conditions and acceptance of expert recommendations to hold off. He has asserted "total authority" to order governors to reopen states, then deferred to them. Trump can't even pick a tone — in some briefings he tries to act presidential, calm, and measured, but most other days he is defensive and antagonistic. The overall impression is that he wants to claim credit but avoid responsibility.
Changing one's mind can be a good thing, if done in response to new and better information. It is less desirable to shift back-and-forth on a whim, or in response to the latest polls. Trump's decision-making is often in the second category, and is too unreliable to be considered actual "leadership."
Democratic governors, like California's Gavin Newsom and New York's Andrew Cuomo, have learned to deal with Trump during this crisis by flattering him when possible and working around him where prudent. They know at this point not to trust the president's unreliable leadership. Republican governors like Kemp, though, may feel less free to act independently — Trump is hugely popular among GOP voters, and the party's elected officials fear crossing him. So if he signals that the economy should open sooner rather than later, it is likely they'll follow his lead.
When Trump changes his mind, though, he has no problem throwing such followers under the bus. Just ask Kemp.
The Georgia governor has decided to expose his state's 10.62 million citizens to a heightened chance of death and illness from the COVID-19 virus, and now he is doing it without the political backing of the most popular figure in his party — support he had reason to believe was forthcoming. Given that most Americans aren't ready to lift the lockdown, Kemp's decision is a loser both in terms of public health and politics.
Inconsistency isn't Trump's only shortcoming. On Wednesday, he displayed his penchant for magical thinking, shoving aside assessments that a second wave of coronavirus infections could occur in the fall. "We may not even have corona coming back," he said, even though Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, immediately contradicted him. That suggests the United States is in danger of being inadequately prepared — again — when and if that next outbreak happens.
But hey, the president might change his mind about that forecast in the next day or two, depending on which way the wind blows.
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