Talking Points

Trump's strategy of COVID denial is defeated by COVID

Through last spring, Donald Trump was all over the map on COVID-19. First he moved to restrict travel from China to halt the spread of the virus. Then he downplayed the danger while knowing the risks full well. Then he relented and treated it seriously for several weeks. Finally, growing impatient and worried about the consequences of the pandemic on the economy and his prospects for re-election, he made a fateful decision. From mid-May on, the message from the White House has been constant and clear: The worst is over, it's time to open things up, let's get back to normal.

That was the authentically Trumpian response. As Andrew Sullivan writes in his weekly column, Trump "has spent years at war with reality: living in delusions, perpetuating fantasies, imagining hoaxes, constructing conspiracies, accruing debt, rewriting history constantly as self-serving myth." No wonder he thought he could will away the virus, too. But of course, the belief that one can remake the world in order to conform to one's needs and hopes is what children do. As Sullivan also notes, "at some point, reality was going to get personal in return."

And so it has — with Trump himself coming down with COVID-19 right as he heads into the final month of the presidential campaign. But not only him. Republicans throughout Washington and across the country have followed the president's lead, refusing to wear masks, mocking those who do, throwing parties, going to public events. This includes the large, maskless event held at the White House last weekend to announce the president's nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court. That may well be where Fr. John Jenkins, president of the University of Notre Dame, picked up the virus, along with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), and possibly many others.

But that was nearly a week ago. Since then, Trump traveled to Cleveland for the presidential debate on Tuesday, then to Minnesota for a rally on Wednesday, and finally to an indoor fundraiser in New Jersey on Thursday — the last of these after presidential adviser Hope Hicks had already tested positive. Trump himself tested positive later that night. As Jeff Greenfield put it in a tweet Friday morning, "the fact that Trump and Company knew of Hicks' condition and just pressed on with their plans is almost unfathomable, until you realize how much they had invested in downplaying the pandemic."