Like so many of Donald Trump's bad ideas, the first sign of trouble came in a tweet. Shortly before midnight (ET) on Sunday, the president published an all-caps missive that read, "We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself. At the end of the 15 day period, we will make a decision as to which way we want to go!"
It was the first public sign that the Republican was prepared to retreat from the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. As of Monday, Trump apparently eyed March 31 as the day in which the federal response would change direction. A day later, he pointed to Easter, which this year falls on April 12.
Yesterday, the president sent a letter to governors, and while it didn't give a detailed timeline, the document said he intends to label different parts of the country as high risk, medium risk, or low risk. The idea, evidently, would be to use the labels as a guide: low-risk areas would ease their social-distancing measures and related efforts, while high-risk areas would not.
It's a deeply flawed plan, drafted for dubious reasons: Trump believes retreat will give the economy a boost, and the public-health consequences are a price he's prepared to pay.
The Donald Trump–Fox News feedback loop has been on a terrifying kick this week about how you can't make the "cure" for the coronavirus pandemic (staying home so you don't get infected/infect others with a deadly respiratory virus) worse than the disease itself, because having too many people at home harms "the economy," and so everyone needs to "get back to work" at the end of a 15-day social distancing period, which Trump claims began last week. This is such a shortsighted reading of what's good for "the economy" that even hard-line Republicans are disagreeing with it.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), for example, explained, "There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what's necessary to stop the virus."
She didn't specifically reference the president, but given the context, she didn't have to.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) struck a similar note, arguing, "Try running an economy with major hospitals overflowing, doctors and nurses forced to stop treating some because they can't help all, and every moment of gut-wrenching medical chaos being played out in our living rooms, on TV, on social media, and shown all around the world. There is no functioning economy unless we control the virus."
But I was especially struck by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine's (R) line:
"I've been asked if I had a reaction to the president's statements yesterday. I think we are aligned. We want to get this over with ASAP. We want people back at work. The frustration he has, I share it. Each day we can't move forward is frustrating. We're all in this together. The truth is that protecting people and protecting the economy are not mutually exclusive. In fact, one depends on the other. We save our economy by first saving lives. And we have to do it in that order."
It's not easy for a governor to adopt the opposite of Trump's line, while simultaneously saying he's "aligned" with Trump, but DeWine is no doubt aware of the president's capacity for criticism, and so it led him to adopt this carefully worded line.