There was an unintentionally amusing moment on NBC News' "Meet the Press" yesterday, when Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel was trying to defend Donald Trump's pandemic response. Following the president's cues, the RNC chief made the case that when Trump misled the public about the seriousness of the threat, he was merely trying to prevent panic.
In reference to the president, McDaniel argued, "Think of what would have happened if he'd have gone out and said, 'This is awful. We should all be afraid. We don't have a plan.'"
The RNC chair may have admitted more than she'd intended with that one.
Nevertheless, as part of the same interview, McDaniel seemed eager to shift the focus away from Trump's handling of the pandemic and toward Joe Biden's handling of the pandemic. When NBC News' Chuck Todd reminded the RNC chair that the Delaware Democrat is not actually the president, McDaniel said of Biden, "He was running for president, and he had the same data and the same information."
For what it's worth, Biden has been receiving intelligence briefings, but this was not the case in the early months of the year, as the coronavirus crisis first took root. Regardless, whether Biden had "the same data and the same information" or not, the fact remains that Biden has been a private citizen for nearly four years.
And yet, after her on-air appearance, the RNC's McDaniel took this message to Twitter yesterday afternoon:
"Joe Biden can't run from his disastrous record responding to the coronavirus. The truth hurts, Joe!"
In context, the head of the Republican National Committee was referring to an interview with a Biden aide about a January op-ed, but that didn't make the text any less jarring. Biden has a "disastrous record responding to the coronavirus"? Not to put too fine a point on this, but to echo Chuck Todd's reminder to McDaniel, Biden isn't the president. He's a private citizen with no access to the levers of governmental power.
The former vice president can't "respond" to the pandemic in any meaningful way because he hasn't been elected, at least not yet.
For that matter, as the U.S. death toll climbs closer to 200,000 people, an awkward question hangs over head: if, according to the Republican National Committee, Biden has a "disastrous record responding to the coronavirus," what are we to make of the record of the president who's actually in office?
The larger point, of course, is that some in Republican circles are trying to position Trump as some kind of insurgent outsider, running against a Democratic incumbent. The president occasionally plays along, even recycling his 2016 campaign stump speech, assuring voters he hopes to "make America great again."
Given the circumstances, the tactic is understandable -- the number of Americans satisfied with the status quo is low and falling -- but I'm hard pressed to imagine how many voters will be swayed by the idea that Biden's response to COVID-19 has been "disastrous."