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As the number of fatalities climbs, Trump moves the goalposts

On Feb. 26, Trump said the number of coronavirus cases would be "going to be down to close to zero" within days. A lot has happened over the last 33 days.
Donald Trump
President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence listen as Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room on Monday.Alex Brandon / AP

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, reportedly briefed Donald Trump yesterday on competing pandemic models, including a worst-case scenario: if the United States did nothing to try to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, up to 2.2 million fatalities could be expected.

A Washington Post report noted, "The prospect of 2 million deaths seemed to stick with Trump because he repeated the statistic 16 times at Sunday's news conference."

It's worth pausing to ask why it took the president so long to acknowledge the figure. After all, numbers like these are not altogether new -- and many were pointing to related tallies last week when Trump talked publicly about abandoning mitigation efforts by Easter.

But this also appears to have led Trump to move the goalposts to a new location.

The NIH's Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN yesterday that he believes the coronavirus could kill 100,000 to 200,000 Americans. Birx used a similar figure this morning with NBC News, pointing to the possibility of up to 200,000 U.S. deaths, even "if we do things almost perfectly."

It's against this backdrop that the president seemed to set a new standard for success yesterday.

"And so, if we can hold that down, as we're saying, to 100,000 -- that's a horrible number -- maybe even less, but to 100,000; so we have between 100- and 200,000 -- we all, together, have done a very good job."

On Feb. 26, Trump told the public, "[W]hen you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done."

A lot has happened over the last 33 days.