George W. Bush never actually said, "Mission Accomplished," despite his association with the ignominious phrase. It was the text on a banner above Bush's head in 2003 when the then-president declared the end of "major combat operations" in Iraq, and his presidency was haunted by the phrase as conditions in the Middle East deteriorated.
The significance lingered: the Republican's two-word banner came to represent premature celebration amidst disastrous circumstances. As we've discussed, it quickly became a warning to future presidents who may be tempted by hubris.
There's little to suggest Donald Trump learned any of the relevant lessons. Here, for example, was the president on Feb. 2, reflecting on the coronavirus outbreak.
"We pretty much shut it down coming in from China. But we can't have thousands of people coming in who may have this problem, the coronavirus. We're going to see what happens, but we did shut it down, yes."
It's now obvious that neither Trump nor his team "shut it down." And yet, the president kept traveling the same path, making these comments on Feb. 26:
"[W]hen you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done."
It did not go down "close to zero." In fact, as of yesterday, the number of Americans with the coronavirus was at least 500. And yet, there was Trump again on Friday
"This came unexpectedly a number of months ago. I heard about it in China. It came out of China, and I heard about it. And made a good move: We closed it down; we stopped it."
As we discussed a couple of weeks ago, if these aren't "Mission Accomplished" moments, they're certainly rhetorical cousins of the phrase. In fact, with Bush never having uttered the words, Trump's COVID-19 declarations are arguably quite a bit worse.
With every discouraging new development on the outbreak, the White House tries to put a positive political spin on the headlines, leaving many to wonder, "Whatever happened to those 'going to be down to close to zero' declarations?"