This fear has outweighed concerns about the country’s economic downturn, too. An ABC News-Post poll from June showed that 57 percent of Americans preferred controlling the virus’s spread over restarting the economy, a number that rose to 59 percent among independents. Nor is this feeling confined to Americans. A poll released this weekend in Britain found that Britons by a more than 2-to-1 margin thought that doing too little to control the virus’s spread was more of a threat than doing too much to control it and disrupting people’s lives and jobs. In both countries, Republicans and Conservatives were likelier to worry about the economy, but even then substantial numbers of right-leaning voters wanted to prioritize controlling the disease over returning to more normal, pre-pandemic economic and social life.
Trump’s words and deeds, however, have always run counter to these firm preferences. He played down the virus’s severity in public even though he knew it could be a serious problem, as author and Post associate editor Bob Woodward uncovered. He spoke about the possibility that the economy could be reopened by Easter. He conspicuously did not wear masks in most public appearances, contravening guidance from his own Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. And he has consistently held events, indoors and outdoors, where mask-wearing and social distancing norms were not observed. The message could not have been clearer.
The effect on the country has been clear, too. It is true that other countries that showed initially positive returns from their lockdowns have started to see a resurgence in cases. It is also true, as New York Times columnist Ross Douthat has observed, that the U.S. record on preventing coronavirus deaths falls somewhere in the middle of that of similarly situated nations. But citizens expect their national leaders to strive for excellent results, not settle for middling ones. A nation that wanted personal safety above all else has reason to be disappointed with its president.
The president has felt this — first politically and now personally. Almost every other world leader in similarly situated countries has seen a significant uptick in their personal favorability ratings and in ballot test polls. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shut her island nation down early and, despite a recent mild resurgence in cases, looks set to lead her Labour Party to a landslide win in the national election later this month. Closer to home, Ontario’s populist conservative premier, Doug Ford, was in political trouble in February, with his party’s standing well below what it had achieved during elections in 2018. Today, Ford’s Progressive Conservative Party stands triumphant, polling more than the two largest opposition parties combined in the most recent poll. Trump could have had a similar effect, even if it were muted by this country’s intense partisanship. Instead, he’s in the hospital and behind by more than eight points in the polls.
The president should recover his personal health given the early and intense care he has received. If he also wants to recover his political health, he needs to have a hospital-bed conversion and finally acknowledge the public’s mood. However unlikely, that would mean taking his own health seriously and resting in the White House for a few days after he is discharged. And it would mean a national event to promote mask-wearing and instituting social distancing measures at all future campaign events. The media would howl at his reversal, and Trump’s pride would surely be wounded. But a grateful public just might see a man who could change his mind and give him some benefit of the doubt. More importantly, the new message could save some lives as the nation continues to struggle with the virus.
Trump has no one to blame but himself for his personal and political ills. Let’s hope that he has learned something from the experience.