Over-promising and under-delivering during a crisis is a toxic combination

Just once, I'd love to see Trump under-promise and over-deliver because he's doing a whole lot of the opposite.
Image: White House Coronavirus Task Force Holds Daily Briefing
President Donald Trump pauses during a news briefing on the latest development of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. at the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on March 18, 2020.Alex Wong / Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

It's generally known as a business truism: under-promise and over-deliver. The idea behind the maxim is simple: it's far better to show some humility, set modest expectations, and produce impressive results than the alternative.

As the coronavirus crisis intensifies, however, Donald Trump is over-promising and under-delivering -- which in a situation like this, is a toxic combination.

I was reviewing the Rose Garden press conference the president held a week ago today, which was filled with all kinds of exciting announcements. Americans heard Trump say we'd see 1.4 million coronavirus tests this week, which did not happen. We heard him talk up a Google resource that's still in the development stage. He even overstated the details surrounding plans for drive-through virus testing.

Those who took the president's words at face value last Friday were left wanting.

And it wasn't an isolated incident. On Wednesday, the Republican bragged about dispatching two Navy hospital ships to New York, which wasn't quite right. Yesterday, Trump announced that there are promising COVID-19 treatments, which officials are "going to be able to make ... available almost immediately." It fell to the FDA to make clear soon after that this assessment wasn't exactly true, either.

A Washington Post analysis added yesterday:

Over the past week, President Trump has repeatedly addressed the coronavirus outbreak in the United States in speeches and at news briefings. Often, he's made sweeping claims about dramatic new measures aimed at quickly addressing the virus, treatment or preventing the virus's spread. Often, those claims turn out to be inaccurate.... This pattern -- great news followed by more sober revelations -- has played out repeatedly since Trump's prime time speech from the Oval Office last week.

Maybe the president believes exaggerations and hype will instill a sense of hope. Maybe he sees misplaced boasts as part of a self-aggrandizing strategy that will improve his political standing. Maybe he's confused about the relevant details and doesn't realize that his promises are wrong.

But just once, I'd love to see Trump under-promise and over-deliver, because he's doing a whole lot of the opposite.