Rush Limbaugh this week told his audience that "this coronavirus thing" is being "weaponized as yet another element to bring down Donald Trump." He added, "I'm dead right on this. The coronavirus is the common cold, folks." A day later, the host kept this going, insisting that journalists want the virus outbreak to be deadly "so they could blame Trump for it."
For his part, Donald Trump sounded a sympathetic note about the conspiracy theory in public remarks on Wednesday, and this morning, his right-hand man was even more explicit on this front. At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told attendees:
"The reason you're seeing so much attention to it today is they that think this is going to be what brings down the president. That's what this is all about. I got a note today from a reporter saying, 'What are you going to do today to calm the markets?' I'm like, really, what I might do to calm the markets is tell people to turn their televisions off for 24 hours."
Oh. So, one of the top officials in the White House believes the best way to reassure people about the virus outbreak is to encourage them to be less informed about current events. How reassuring?
But it was that first part of Mulvaney's quote that struck me as especially amazing. As far as the acting White House chief of staff is concerned, what this is "all about" is an elaborate attempt to undermine the president. With comments like these, the South Carolinian is reinforcing concerns that the West Wing team sees less of a public-health crisis unfolding and more of a manufactured political crisis unfolding.
Moments later at the same event, Mulvaney downplayed the severity of the coronavirus threat, arguing, "This is not Ebola.... It's not SARS. It's not MERS." He added that the White House doesn't understand the market reaction to the outbreak, comparing the coronavirus to the flu.
But in the next breath, the top presidential aide added, in reference to the coronavirus outbreak, "Are you gonna see some schools shut down? Probably. May you see impacts on public transportation? Sure."
Let me see if I have this straight. There's a potentially deadly viral outbreak, and as far as the White House is concerned, media coverage of the threat is "all about" the effort to "bring down the president." The White House is also of the opinion that the virus is not too severe, though it's likely to close American schools and adversely affect public transportation.
HHS Secretary Alex Azar yesterday praised Mulvaney, telling reporters that he's "helping to coordinate across the government with my colleagues and the whole-of-government approach." In light of what we heard at CPAC this morning, that's not as reassuring as Azar may have hoped.