Iowa's Ernst has wildly different standards on Ebola, coronavirus

It's a genuine shame to see what brazen partisanship can do to someone's perspective.
Image: President Trump Joins GOP Senators At Policy Luncheon On Capitol Hill
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa speaks to reporters after a meeting with Republican senators on Capitol Hill on May 19, 2020.Drew Angerer / Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

At the White House, one of the preferred points of comparison for the coronavirus crisis is the H1N1 challenge in 2009. It's a curious choice: the comparison makes Barack Obama look better and Donald Trump look worse.

But there's a related contrast that Republicans should be even more eager to avoid.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) on Sunday bashed former President Barack Obama’s handling of Ebola, a viral disease that two Americans died from, but praised President Trump’s response to the coronavirus as cases surge in several cities.

Ebola was briefly a major political issue ahead of the 2014 elections -- see chapter 10 of my book -- and as a far-right U.S. Senate candidate, Iowa's Joni Ernst was eager to read from her party's script.

Indifferent to reality, Ernst said in 2014 that the Democratic president was "apathetic" about Ebola, and was "just standing back and letting things happen." The Iowa Republican added that, as far as she was concerned, Obama hadn't even "demonstrated" that he "cared" about Americans' safety.

The Ebola threat at the time, Ernst concluded, was evidence of Obama's "failed leadership."

Six years later, CNN's Dana Bash asked the right question: "Only two people in the U.S. died from Ebola. Right now, there are almost 130,000 Americans dead from coronavirus. So, if President Obama showed failed leadership then, do you think President Trump is showing failed leadership now?"

When Ernst, in the midst of a re-election campaign, dodged the question entirely, the host asked again, wondering whether the senator would use the same terminology to criticize Trump as she did to condemn Obama.

"No," the Iowa Republican replied, "I think that the president is stepping forward."

Got it. Obama dealt with an Ebola threat, which killed two Americans. Trump has sort of tried to deal with a coronavirus pandemic, which has killed 130,000 Americans. Evidently, Joni Ernst sees the former as a failure and the latter as evidence of a president stepping up to lead.

It's a genuine shame to see what brazen partisanship can do to someone's perspective.