After peddling a variety of deeply strange conspiracy theories about the coronavirus outbreak in recent months, Donald Trump settled this week on a new one: officials who are reluctant to open too quickly say they're trying to save lives, but it's really just an elaborate election scheme.
The president started pushing this theory on Fox News late last week, arguing that Democratic officials trying to stop the spread of the coronavirus are likely doing so "because it'll hurt me ... hurt me in the election." He added on Twitter on Monday, "The Democrats are moving slowly, all over the USA, for political purposes."
As expected, Trump isn't letting this go. At a White House event yesterday, he said, "Some governors and some, perhaps, partisans, maybe for election reasons, don't want to have their states opened." In a Fox Business interview aired this morning, the Republican added, "The less successful we are in reopening, the better they are, maybe for an election. They would rather see our country fail, and you know what that means, because part of failure is death, than have me get elected."
Even for a president whose entire political persona is tied up in wild-eyed conspiratorial nonsense, this seems a little over the top. State and local officials in several states are prioritizing public safety -- in coordination with public-health authorities -- and are reluctant to reopen without a credible system and plan in place. There is no electoral conspiracy; there is, however, a deadly pandemic.
What's disappointing, however, is the degree to which other Republicans, some of whom really ought to know better, are following Trump's lead on this.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) told Fox News on Wednesday that he "smells the stench of politics" in the decision-making of Democratic governors who have resisted reopening their states before coronavirus guidelines say it's safe to do so. Echoing other Republicans who have advanced baseless conspiracy theories, Scott said the governors were acting in order to influence "election results" and not out of concern for public health and safety.
During a debate on the Senate floor yesterday over CDC reopening guidelines, Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.) reportedly suggested that policymakers shouldn't "let the CDC shutter the economy," adding that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and his party "do not want to reopen the economy."
In other words, we've reached the point at which the president and some of his GOP allies genuinely expect people to believe that rascally Democrats could reopen their states, but they're deliberately choosing not to as part of a dastardly electoral scheme. Sure, it may look like they're trying to save lives through mitigation efforts, but that's just what they want you to think.
And what about public-opinion polls pointing to an American mainstream that also wants officials to exercise caution before reopening too quickly? I suppose they're in on the same scheme?
As for why Trump and Republicans are peddling this, as we discussed the other day, part of this is likely an extension of the president's eagerness to exploit us-vs-them divisiveness. But I continue to think the GOP may also be laying the groundwork for an upcoming blame game. The worse the economic conditions in the coming months, the more the president is likely to say it's the fault of governors and mayors who were determined to sabotage his campaign.
That would be a ridiculous claim, to be sure, but it's an argument that's clearly starting to take shape.