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Charen: Trump’s COVID response was worse than we remember

By Mona Charen - | Jun 8, 2024

Kendra Best

Mona Charen

Here are Trump’s words from that infamous April 2020 press conference about COVID:

“So, supposing we hit the body with a tremendous — whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light. … And then I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. … I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. … And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning.”

Yet here we are, a little more than four years later, and the narrative about how COVID was handled has shifted. It now seems to be conventional wisdom that the worst errors we committed concerned massive shutdowns and school closings. We hear comparatively little about the large discrepancies between Republicans and Democrats in death rates because of the former’s resistance to public health measures and vaccination.

A serious country would look back at Trump’s greatest challenge during his presidency and remember what an embarrassing failure it was.

It began with denial of the problem. Trump told Bob Woodward in a February 2020 phone call that “You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed. And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flus. … This is deadly stuff.”

But in his public statements, Trump repeatedly downplayed the seriousness of the virus. On Jan. 22, 2020, he said, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” On Feb. 7, he tweeted: “Great discipline is taking place in China, as President Xi strongly leads what will be a very successful operation.”

On Feb. 10, he again reported on a chat with Xi, reassuring Americans that “I think China is very, you know, professionally run in the sense that they have everything under control.”

On Feb. 26, he urged people to wash their hands (fair enough) but then suggested that the new virus was “the same as the flu” — exactly the opposite of what he told Woodward.

On Feb. 27, he predicted that COVID would “disappear … it’s like a miracle.”

On Feb. 28, Trump said the Democrats were politicizing the coronavirus, calling it their “new hoax.”

Trump’s principal actions as chief executive in the early days of the pandemic were to enact travel bans from China and later Europe. He did nothing to initiate a testing program, though he did assert falsely that anyone who wanted a test could get one.

In March, Trump urged that the Grand Princess cruise ship, with sick passengers aboard, not be permitted to dock in San Francisco because he didn’t want to increase the number of cases counted in the United States. “I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.”

Also in March 2020, citing a small French study, Trump declared that the anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, taken together with an antibiotic, could be “one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine” and should “be put in use immediately.”

On April 3, Trump mentioned that the CDC was now recommending that people wear masks but said that he would not wear one.

By July, with the number of cases rising sharply, Trump suggested that the tests were picking up trivial cases: “They have the sniffles and we put it down as a test.” By that point, 3.7 million Americans had been infected and more than 140,000 had died.

Also in July, Trump elevated Dr. Stella Immanuel on Twitter. Dr. Immanuel touted hydroxychloroquine as a cure for COVID and denied that masks were effective. She also believed that gynecological problems like cysts and endometriosis are caused by people having sex in their dreams with demons and witches.

In a September 2020 campaign stop, Trump said that COVID affects “virtually nobody,” mainly just “elderly people, elderly people with heart problems and other problems. If they have other problems, that’s what it really affects, that’s it.”

Trump modeled contempt for masking, mocking reporters and others for wearing them. He held huge rallies and White House indoor parties that became superspreader events. When he himself became infected with COVID, he failed to disclose it to associates like Chris Christie (who wound up in intensive care) and arguably attempted to infect Joe Biden at the first presidential debate.

Trump denied the problem, failed to coordinate a federal response other than banning travel, embraced quack cures and modeled antisocial behavior. After first praising Xi Jinping to the skies for his “strong” control of the virus, he switched to name calling — the “Kung Flu,” the “China virus” — to incite xenophobic responses. He really did only one big thing right — backing Operation Warp Speed, which hastened the development of the vaccine.

Now his party has gone full nutcase, demonizing Anthony Fauci. These are unserious people in thrall to a sociopathic clown. The U.S. death rate from COVID far exceeded that of peer nations. That was not due to excessive lockdowns or masking. It was due to incompetence in the White House. Time for a great remembering.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast. Her new book, “Hard Right: The GOP’s Drift Toward Extremism,” is available now.

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