On H1N1, Trump keeps pushing a fight he simply cannot win

The more Trump tries to compare the federal responses to COVID-19 and H1N1, the more he picks a fight that makes him look worse.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden.
Donald Trump and Joe Biden.AP Photos
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By Steve Benen

Donald Trump is probably at least tacitly aware that many Americans are not impressed with his administration's handling of the coronavirus crisis. The president, however, seems to believe he can turn this mess around on Joe Biden by focusing on the Obama administration's response to H1N1 in 2009. Here was Trump on Twitter this morning:

"Biden got failing grades and polls on his clueless handling of the Swine Flu H1N1. It was a total disaster, they had no idea what they were doing. Among the worst ever!"

To be sure, the president has invested a fair amount of time and effort into trying to gaslight the public on this one. As the COVID-19 crisis began in earnest a few months ago, Trump insisted, over and over again, that the Obama administration's handling of H1N1 in 2009 was a "debacle" and a "disaster."

The Republican even had proof: it was a disaster, Trump said in April, because "17,000 people died." A day later, the president repeated the statistic on Twitter, labeling the federal response to H1N1 a "debacle" because "17,000 people died."

With this in mind, let's unpack Trump's case:

1. "Biden got failing grades and polls." Actually, the Democratic White House's response was broadly popular. In April 2009, Donald Trump himself had positive things to say about the Obama/Biden response to response to H1N1

2. The federal response to H1N1 "was a total disaster." Wrong again. The New York Times' Nick Kristof described the Obama administration's handling of H1N1 as "a model" for others to follow: "Prompt response, quick development of a vaccine and then messaging for people to get vaccinated."

3. "17,000 people died." As we've discussed, there's reason for some caution on the figure. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that the virus was responsible for 12,469 deaths in the United States across all of 2009.

But even if we accept Trump's figure at face value, if 17,000 fatalities is evidence of a "debacle," how exactly would he describe 118,000 fatalities over a much shorter period of time?

In fact, this whole line of attack is as bewildering as it is wrong. Trump obviously hopes to convince people there was something awful with the federal response to H1N1, even if that means lying, as a way of helping excuse his tragic COVID-19 failures and undermining his 2020 rival.

But by bringing this up so frequently, what the president is actually doing is inviting a comparison that makes him and his team look even worse. If Democrats are lucky, maybe Trump will keep this up.