Asked about coronavirus conspiracy theory, Trump expresses sympathy

Rush Limbaugh thinks the coronavirus is being "weaponized" to undermine Trump. As nutty as this seems, the president is sympathetic to the argument.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump with members of the President's Coronavirus Task Force speaks during a news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, on Feb. 26, 2020.Evan Vucci / AP
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By Steve Benen

On Monday afternoon, Rush Limbaugh -- the recent recipient of the nation's highest civilian honor -- told his listeners that he had a message about "this coronavirus thing." The conservative host proceeded to argue, "It looks like the coronavirus is being weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump."

Limbaugh added, "I'm dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks."

As dangerous as rhetoric like this is, the host kept this going on Tuesday, insisting that journalists want the virus outbreak to be deadly "so they could blame Trump for it." He compared it to hurricane coverage, which Limbaugh said is hyped in order to promote climate change and "the leftist agenda."

It was against this backdrop that a reporter asked Donald Trump yesterday about far-right conspiracy theories surrounding the coronavirus outbreak, including Limbaugh's assertion about efforts to "weaponize the virus" against him. The president replied:

"I agree with it. I agree.... I think they are -- and I'd like it to stop."

Asked if he'd seen any evidence of the CDC trying to hurt him politically, Trump quickly added that he's not bothered with CDC officials. "They've been working really well together with us," the president said, adding, "They're incredible people."

In other words, Trump is making a distinction between related conspiracy theories. There is a concerted push in some far-right circles to attack the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least in part because Dr. Nancy Messonnier, head of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, is related to Rod Rosenstein, the former deputy attorney general who oversaw the investigation into the Russia scandal.

Fortunately, at least as of yesterday afternoon, the president expressed no interest in endorsing these attacks, expressing public support for the CDC. (Of course, if recent history is any guide, a stray tweet or conservative media segment could alter the Republican's perspective quickly.)

But Trump did seem sympathetic to the idea that other perceived foes were trying to use the outbreak against him. He specifically whined for a while about Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), though it wasn't altogether clear why.

Those hoping to see a level-headed leader prepared for a public-health emergency instead saw ... this.