Defending travel restrictions, Trump points at critics who don't exist

The idea that he acted "against the wishes of almost all" may make Trump feel better about his response, but it doesn't make his claim true.
Image: Donald Trump
President Donald Trump speaks during the daily press briefing on the Coronavirus pandemic situation at the White House on March 17, 2020.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

Donald Trump is apparently feeling a bit defensive this morning, which naturally led to an unfortunate tweet. Most of the missive was wrong in familiar ways, but there was one element that struck me as notable.

"I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the 'borders' from China - against the wishes of almost all," the president wrote this morning.

It's not easy to pack so many falsehoods into a single sentence. For example, the idea that that he "always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously" -- he's really leaning into the whole rebranding effort -- is plainly wrong. As the crisis took shape, Trump downplayed the threat over and over and over again.

But just as notable is the president's insistence that almost everyone opposed his decision to impose Chinese travel restrictions in January. It's gradually become one of Trump's favorite claims: thanks to his wisdom and foresight, our brave leader defied the conventional wisdom, shook off skeptics, imposed the restrictions, and saved lives.

Defending his policy on Feb. 28, the president said at a cabinet meeting, "I took a lot of heat from the Democrats." Trump added a day later, "I took a lot of heat, even from my own people." As recently as last week, the Republican told reporters, in reference to the Chinese travel restrictions, "I took a lot of heat, including from you people. A lot of heat."

There was no such heat. As the Washington Post's Aaron Blake explained:

When the Trump administration made the announcement Jan. 31, there was little in the way of a political disagreement about it. I've scoured reports from around the time and come up almost completely empty.

To be sure, much of the administration's response to the coronavirus crisis has been criticized, and for good reason. But reducing travel from China in late January wasn't an especially controversial move.

The idea that he acted "against the wishes of almost all" may make Trump feel better about his response to the viral outbreak, but as the Post's Blake added, it's "wildly wrong."