This election is a referendum on Trump. That’s very bad news for him.
September 10, 2020 at 3:41 p.m. CDT
Two months before the election, this race has become what President Trump most fears: a referendum on his chaotic, incompetent, dishonest leadership and his lack of a moral compass. If this is the rubric voters use to choose between the candidates, Trump and the Republican Party are in serious trouble.
Even after four numbing years of Trumpism, the revelations in Bob Woodward's forthcoming book, "Rage," are shocking. Back in February, when Trump was telling Americans that covid-19 was no big deal and comparing it to the seasonal flu, he already knew, as he told Woodward, that it was "more deadly than even your strenuous flus" and very easily transmitted. In March, he admitted "playing it down," publicly and falsely reassuring the nation that the pandemic would somehow magically go away, counting on confidence to supersede reality.
Trump cannot claim he was misquoted or taken out of context, since Woodward has him on tape. And he has a lot of Trump's words to quote: a total of 18 interviews, including several late-night phone calls from the president. Trump's only defense so far is that he didn't want to create a panic. But there is an obvious difference between calmly delivering bad news or rallying the public's will to fight and deliberately withholding information that could prevent severe illness and death.
When Franklin D. Roosevelt said "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," he was optimistically steeling the nation to claw its way out of the Great Depression.
When Winston Churchill declared, "We shall fight on the beaches," he was modeling defiance against a powerful enemy. When Trump said, "It's going to go away, hopefully at the end of the month" — predicting the virus would disappear in April — he was just telling a lie.
Despite knowing how deadly the virus could be, Trump failed to develop and implement a national strategy to minimize its toll. He hectored governors to reopen businesses in their states too soon, and he continues to badger schools to commence full-time, in-person instruction, ready or not. The result has been nearly 190,000 deaths, many of which could have been avoided.
This is the record that Trump does not want voters to consider. He would rather have us square off in a race-fueled culture war.
The bombshells from Woodward's book exploded just days after a stunning article in the Atlantic by the magazine's editor, Jeffrey Goldberg, describing Trump's sneering disdain for the war dead who, as Abraham Lincoln said, "gave the last full measure of devotion" to their country. The president thinks they were losers.
According to the unnamed sources Goldberg quotes, Trump seemed unable to comprehend why anyone would make such a sacrifice. The former Trump administration officials who were reportedly present when the commander in chief made the disparaging comments — and who would be in a position to dispute Goldberg's reporting if it were not accurate — have remained eloquently silent. Other outlets, including Fox News, say they have confirmed Goldberg's reporting.
This is the character, or lack thereof, that Trump does not want voters to ponder. He would rather have us argue about whether Joe Biden, who has been in the public eye for five decades, is some kind of closet Marxist.
Politically speaking, Trump is not actually made of Teflon. Mud does stick to him. The problem is that by now he is covered with so much muck that the latest filth often blends in with the rest. What we have learned over the past week stands out, however — and will be difficult to ignore.
Trump's hardcore base probably will not care, though it is hard for me to understand how any Gold Star family or anyone who has lost a loved one to covid-19 could fail to have second thoughts. But supporters who are more loosely attached to the president — who might like his judicial appointees, or who applaud his tax cuts — now have more evidence of Trump's gross unfitness that they somehow must rationalize away.
Trump is not just unorthodox, impolite or uncouth. He is not an omelet-maker who necessarily breaks eggs. He is inept, immoral and dangerously dishonest — and must be defeated for the good of the nation.
The more that voters see this election as a statement about what kind of person Trump is, and what kind of leader he has been, the more likely that Biden will be our next president.