IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.
Image: Syringes of the H1N1 vaccination at a clinic in Dallas, Texas, in 2009.
Syringes of the H1N1 vaccination at a clinic in Dallas in 2009.Matt Nager / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Whether or not Trump realizes it, the H1N1 comparison hurts him

Trump keeps trying to compare the federal responses to COVID-19 and H1N1. Whether he realizes it or not, he's making himself look worse.


In her impressive Democratic convention speech last night, former First Lady Michelle Obama pointed to the Obama/Biden's administration dealing with epidemiological crises. Pointing specifically to Joe Biden's extensive experience, she added that the former vice president "knows what it takes to ... beat back a pandemic."

This morning on Twitter, Donald Trump was eager to argue otherwise.

"Looking back into history, the response by the ObamaBiden team to the H1N1 Swine Flu was considered a weak and pathetic one. Check out the polling, it's really bad. The big difference is that they got a free pass from the Corrupt Fake News Media!"

Circling back to our earlier coverage, the president has certainly 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 several 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 has even tried to offer 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. "Check out the polling." 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 "considered a weak and pathetic one." Wrong again. Not only did Trump praise the response at the time, 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 171,000 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.