Just three months into Donald Trump's presidency, one of his confidants told Politico, "If you're an adviser to him, your job is to help him at the margins. To talk him out of doing crazy things." Soon after, a senior administration official added in an interview with Axios, "You have no idea how much crazy stuff we kill."
These quotes came to mind last week when the president signaled his willingness to abandon the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and re-open the nation on Easter, which arrives this year on April 12. "It's such an important day for other reasons," Trump said of the Christian holiday, "but I'll make it an important day for this, too."
Medical professionals and public-health experts were apoplectic. Several governors said they intended to ignore the Easter deadline, regardless of the White House's plans. Even prominent Republican officials made clear -- carefully, but publicly -- that if the president followed through on this, the results would be disastrous.
Yesterday afternoon, Trump retreated.
President Donald Trump announced Sunday that he's extending his administration's guidelines on social distancing during the COVID-19 outbreak until April 30.... [O]n Sunday, Trump said that the Easter target date was "just an aspiration" and that he expects "great things to be happening" by June 1. Instead, Trump said he believes Easter will mark "the peak number, and it should start coming down, hopefully very substantially at that point."
The idea that Easter was simply aspirational is politically convenient -- the president doesn't want to be seen as backing down -- but difficult to take seriously. After touting the holiday target date nearly a week ago, Trump had multiple opportunities to downplay its significance. He did largely the opposite.
It's unfortunate that at this point in the crisis, what passes for good news is when the president comes up with a ridiculous idea and then abandons it.
As for the near future, Trump said yesterday that his administration is extending the existing guidelines until the end of April, but note he also signaled optimism about June 1. Unless he misspoke, it suggested the president envisions two more months of social distancing, not one.