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The problem with Trump's report card on his coronavirus performance

For Trump, even the pandemic is simply a matter of "public relations" and a question of what he can get the gullible to believe.
N.Y. Coronavirus Deaths Fall for Fifth Consecutive Day
Cremation boxes, mostly containing the bodies of suspected Covid-19 patients, sit in a room at a funeral home in the Queens borough of New York on April 29, 2020.Angus Mordant / Bloomberg via Getty Images

As the United States crossed the 200,000-fatalities threshold on the coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump paused to tell reporters that he and his team have done "a really good job," "a phenomenal job," "an incredible job," and "a great job" -- reality notwithstanding.

At a campaign event in Pennsylvania over the weekend, the president went so far as to cite an imagined report card in which he gave himself passing grades.

"You know they said, 'How did you do?' I say we get an A+, but I get a D in public relations because we were so busy working."

He used nearly identical language the night before in Virginia.

"[T]he only thing we did badly on was public relations because we were working so hard... We've done a hell of a job except in public relations, and that's explaining it to people."

More than 7 million Americans have been infected. As of this morning, COVID-19 has claimed the lives of more than 205,000 Americans. Both the number of infections and the number of deaths has gone up, not down, over the last couple of weeks.

As a political matter, these gut-wrenching results leave the president with three options. The first is the one that won't be considered: Trump could acknowledge what's gone wrong and take steps to improve the domestic response to the crisis.

The second is to acknowledge reality but insist he's not to blame for the dreadful conditions.

And the third is to encourage the public to pretend that failure is actually success, and reality has no meaning. Everything is simply a matter of "public relations" and what a post-policy president can get the gullible to believe.

The problem is not only Trump's commitment to Door #3, but also the frequency with which he's prioritized public relations above substantive considerations. In early March, for example, the president was weighing whether to bring Americans with the coronavirus back to American soil, but he hedged because he thought it might "look bad" for the U.S. "statistically."

Three months later, the Republican said he wanted to "slow the testing down" because it would make the U.S. response to the pandemic appear more effective.

And here we are in late September, watching Trump struggle with the same misguided instincts.