Trump campaign officials are spending $400,000 on aggressive pro-Trump ads that ran in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. As I noted last week, these are three places Trump has little chance of winning in 2020 — he lost D.C. in 2016 by a margin of 86.8 points. So why run them? Answer: So Trump will see them during his voracious daily consumption of television and think his campaign is doing well, and then he will stop screaming at people for a few minutes.
This bad news sleight-of-hand between Trump’s campaign people and the candidate has reportedly come to involve Trump’s dismal polling, as well. The latest numbers show Trump trailing presumptive Democratic challenger Joe Biden by double digits, and have him falling behind in virtually every pivotal battleground state. His approval numbers are well underwater and show no sign of surfacing anytime soon.
What to do? Easy. Lie to the boss. According to The Daily Beast, “A chunk of the re-election team focuses on proving to the president that his ‘dumpster-fire numbers’ aren’t as bad as they seem, or reinforcing Trump’s conviction that pollsters get it wrong ‘all the time.’” According to one White House source, “This helps keep the president from flying into a rage as much as he otherwise would.”
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All this seems better suited for a farce political show on Netflix, one of those series you binge while swaddled in the warm knowledge that it is all fiction … except this is fact, and the man at the center of this assembly line of deliberate delusion is tasked to lead the nation through a viciously lethal pandemic that has just cleared its throat, blinked the theater lights, and announced, “Please be seated, Act I is not yet complete.”
“Houston opened to 75% capacity on Friday, but it may not last long,” CBS News reported over the weekend. “Officials are cautioning that they may need to order people back home and open a COVID-19 hospital at NRG Stadium, a football complex, as coronavirus cases surge in the nation’s fourth-largest city.”
Since the Memorial Day weekend, states that largely escaped the harshest effects of COVID now find themselves awash in new cases that require hospitalizations. Florida has seen approximately 1,000 new cases a day since June 2, but spiked to 2,340 on Friday, and that spike held through the weekend. While an increase in testing can account for some of these new cases, it is the accelerating rate of cases necessitating hospitalization that is causing the deepest unease.
Hotspots such as Massachusetts and New York City have managed to contain the deadly outbreaks they suffered in March and April, almost entirely because they ignored Donald Trump and the rest of the “Reopen Now” crowd, relying instead on the judicious application of science and the advice of medical professionals. States that rushed to reopen at Trump’s frantic urging, however, are now seeing a rush of new cases.
“Hospitals in Arizona have been urged to activate emergency plans to cope with a flood of coronavirus patients,” reports The New York Times. “On Saturday, Florida saw its largest single-day count of cases since the pandemic began. Oregon has failed to contain the spread of the virus in many places, leading the governor on Thursday to pause what had been a gradual reopening. And in Texas, cases are rising swiftly around the largest cities, including Houston, San Antonio and Dallas.”
From the beginning of this elongated fiasco, Trump has been able to depend on that segment of the population that believes every word he speaks is contemporaneously carved onto stone tablets. These are the folks who harassed various state government officials with military-style weapons, and who threaten state health officials when they dare to deviate from Trump’s self-serving COVID pabulum. Reaction to the pandemic has broken along clear ideological lines, thanks almost entirely to Trump, but those lines are beginning to blur as COVID sharpens its claws on regions that have been faithful to the president.
“A relative lack of health infrastructure in parts of rural America and economic devastation from the Covid-19 closures mean that already vulnerable communities could be overwhelmed,” reports The Guardian. “Older, rural voters in Republican-led states that declined to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act are more likely to lack health insurance than the urban poor.”
This is a ticking time bomb, not a second wave of the COVID pandemic but the continuation of the first.
Trump’s reaction? Let’s throw a crowded rally with no masks or social distancing! Let’s hold it in Tulsa, site of a gruesome 1921 racist massacre! Let’s do it on Juneteenth, the day celebrating Black emancipation from slavery! This was not a racist dog whistle, or even a dog megaphone. This was a dog Horn of Helm Hammerhand, and the whole bloody world heard it fair and true.
A key element to Trump’s “Lazarus Come Forth” campaign strategy is to ramp up these big rallies he is so fond of, the ones where he gets to lie without restraint, threaten the press, and bathe in the unrestrained red-hatted adulation of people who think Antifa is hiding under the bed, just waiting to strike.
That horn was for them, and even though Trump eventually backed off the Juneteenth date for the rally, the signal was sent and received. Meanwhile, his campaign is still requiring Tulsa rally attendees to sign a waiver saying they won’t sue the campaign if they catch COVID from a dirty QAnon sign at the venue. So far as I know, this is the first time in history people have been asked to sign a waiver over a hoax.
The Tulsa rally has health officials flatly terrified. “I’m concerned about our ability to protect anyone who attends a large, indoor event,” Tulsa City-County Health Department director Bruce Dart told the Tulsa World on Saturday, “and I’m also concerned about our ability to ensure the president stays safe as well. COVID is here in Tulsa, it is transmitting very efficiently. I wish we could postpone this to a time when the virus isn’t as large a concern as it is today.”
Dart’s alarm is warranted. Over the weekend, Trump delivered a slurred, factually oblivious commencement speech to socially distanced cadets at West Point. While there, he visibly struggled to lift a glass of water to his lips, and picked his way down from the stage like a man who could barely keep his feet. These images reignited the ongoing conversation about the nebulous status of his health, and underscored a hard truth: If COVID taps Trump on the shoulder in Tulsa, he may be hard put to overcome it.
Speaking to Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday, Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said, “Would I want my loved ones in a setting like that? Absolutely not. And it wouldn’t matter about politics; I wouldn’t want them there.”
Even the nigh-invisible Anthony Fauci is raising alarms over Saturday’s rally in Tulsa. “The best thing to do is to avoid crowded areas,” Fauci told CNN on Friday. “But if you’re not going to do that, please wear a mask.” Two days later, Fauci told The Telegraph, “I would hope to get to some degree of real normality within a year or so. But I don’t think it’s this winter or fall, we’ll be seeing it for a bit more.”
Normal is on the bus, Anthony, with a ticket punched for far, far away. Trump’s fact-starved obsession with re-election and his toxic, racist disinterest in COVID have been careening toward each other at breakneck speed for weeks now. On Saturday, they will collide in Tulsa, and there will be a body count by July because of it.
The Biblical King David was said to have messengers bearing bad tidings killed out of hand (2 Samuel 1:15). Fearing a political version of this fate, the people surrounding Trump — in his administration and his campaign — avoid his wrath by lying to his face.
With more than 115,000 dead from COVID-19, and with more sure to follow from within the ranks of his strongest supporters, the truth is going to find the president sooner or later. How many of us will be left alive to see it remains an open, haunting question.