Even during a pandemic, Trump can't shake his Obama fixation

If Trump wants to talk about what he "inherited," the conversation ought to include the blueprint Obama left his successor on how to deal with a pandemic.
Image: President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump at the Oval Office on Nov. 10, 2016.
President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump at the Oval Office on Nov. 10, 2016.Win McNamee / Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

Shortly before 8 a.m. (ET) this morning, Donald Trump thought it'd be a good idea to publish a weird tweet featuring a video in which Barack Obama's face was superimposed onto an actor's body. It was a timely reminder: the incumbent president, even during a pandemic, can't shake his preoccupation with his immediate predecessor.

The Republican's tweet was part of a much larger pattern that borders on creepy. During Saturday's White House press briefing, for example, Trump claimed that North Korea's Kim Jong-un "wouldn't meet with" Barack Obama. That's ridiculously false. Trump went on to say his predecessor "left us no ammunition." That's equally absurd.

And some of Trump's Obama fixation -- presented during a press briefing that was supposed to be about the coronavirus crisis -- even related to the pandemic. From the official transcript:

"Unfortunately, some partisan voices are attempting to politicize the issue of testing, which they shouldn't be doing, because I inherited broken junk.... [Obama] left us virtually no medical and ventilators. He left us -- the cupboard was dry, right? The cupboard was dry."

There are a few angles to this that are worth keeping mind. Let's first tackle the idea that the Trump administration "inherited broken junk" when it comes to testing. A little common sense in this area goes a long way: COVID-19 started, as the name makes clear, in 2019. It's true that previous presidents didn't provide Trump with effective testing for a virus that didn't exist, but that's because the virus didn't exist.

But that didn't stop the current president from continuing the offensive yesterday, adding that his administration "inherited" tests "that were no good." Again, developing tests for viruses that don't yet exist is not possible.

The second part of Trump's pitch was that the "cupboard was dry" when he took office, in apparent reference to U.S. stockpiles. This claim isn't true, either, but it's also self-defeating in ways the president doesn't seem to realize: if you moved into a new place and noticed empty cupboards, you might be justified in complaining about the previous owners. But if you moved into a new place, noticed empty cupboards, and ignored the issue for three years, you've effectively forfeited the high ground.

As relevant as these details are, it's the larger context that matters even more: Trump's unshakable focus on Obama is awfully tough to defend.

Last month, on the day the Republican announced a national state of emergency, he worked into his presentation a snide comment about the Affordable Care Act's temporary website difficulties several years ago. A week before that, Trump lied about Obama administration regulations interfering in testing development.

A few days ago earlier, Trump, for no apparent reason, lied about the Obama administration's record on combating HIV/AIDS. It was during a meeting with members of the administration's coronavirus task force and executives from leading American pharmaceutical companies, and Trump apparently just wanted to get in a rhetorical shot at Obama, even if the underlying claim was false.

Paul Waldman recently asked, "Has there ever been a president who talked so much about the man who preceded him? If so, I'm not aware of it.

The irony is, if Trump really wants to talk about what he "inherited," the conversation probably ought to include the blueprint Obama and his team left their successors on how to deal with a pandemic. Sure, the Republican administration ended up ignoring the plan, but who's fault is that?