It was nine days ago when Donald Trump added a new conspiracy theory to his campaign pitch, telling supporters in Wisconsin that "doctors" and "hospitals" are over-classifying coronavirus deaths in order to "get more money." As part of his unscripted line of attack, the president added, in reference to alleged hospital corruption, "Think of this incentive."
As we discussed soon after, the allegations are not only baseless, they're also targeting the front-line medical professionals who've earned the nation's gratitude. It wasn't long before the American Health Association, the nation's largest group of doctors, issued a statement making clear that Trump's completely wrong.
And yet, there was the president again on Friday, telling a Michigan crowd that the pandemic death toll in the United States is evidence of a scam perpetrated by American medical professionals. NBC News reported:
"I mean our doctors are very smart people. So what they do is they say, I'm sorry, but everybody dies with Covid," Trump said. "But in Germany and other places, if you have a heart attack or if you have cancer, you're terminally ill, you catch Covid, they say you died of cancer, he died of heart attack."
The Republican incumbent added, "When in doubt, choose Covid.... [I]t's like $2,000 more. So you get more money."
For Trump, the benefit of the conspiracy theory is obvious: if medical professionals are pulling a scam, the administration's failed response to the coronavirus pandemic doesn't look quite as bad. Common sense may suggest that more than 230,000 fatalities in the United States is proof of a catastrophic response, which makes Trump's allegation all the more politically appealing: the president would have Americans believe the figure isn't real.
It wasn't long before Joe Biden was slamming the president's conspiracy theory, and Barack Obama did the same. But as the New York Times noted, no one was quite as incensed as medical professionals themselves.
"The suggestion that doctors — in the midst of a public health crisis — are overcounting Covid-19 patients or lying to line their pockets is a malicious, outrageous and completely misguided charge," Susan R. Bailey, the president of the American Medical Association, said in a statement on Friday. "Rather than attacking us and lobbing baseless charges at physicians, our leaders should be following the science and urging adherence to the public health steps we know work — wearing a mask, washing hands and practicing physical distancing," she added.
Team Trump doesn't seem to care. On ABC News' "This Week" yesterday, Jason Miller, a senior adviser to the president's re-election campaign, told George Stephanopoulos there are "independent things" bolstering Trump's claims.
Reality tells a very different story, but in the presidential race's closing days, Trump is nevertheless comfortable wrapping up the campaign by trying to smear hospitals and medical professionals.
Postscript: It's tough to know how Trump comes to believe the various conspiracy theories he embraces, but it's worth noting for context that he may have picked up on this one from conservative media.