Trump sees partisan scheme in calls for ramped up virus testing

To hear Trump tell it, the focus on coronavirus testing is a partisan scheme to "get him." That's demonstrably ridiculous.
Image: A coronavirus testing site outside International Community Health Services during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Seattle
Nurse Tina Nguyen holds out a nasal swab for a patient at a coronavirus testing site outside International Community Health Services in the Chinatown-International District in Seattle on March 26, 2020.Lindsey Wasson / Reuters
By Steve Benen

Late last week, Vice President Mike Pence held a conference call with senators, and by all accounts, it didn't go especially well. The discussion, not surprisingly, turned to the need for ramped up coronavirus testing, and senators were not altogether pleased to hear the White House didn't have a national plan.

According to an Associated Press account, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) told Pence the administration's failure to develop an adequate national testing regime is a "dereliction of duty." King reportedly added, "I have never been so mad about a phone call in my life."

A day later, at the White House press briefing, Donald Trump said King -- an independent who caucuses with Democrats -- doesn't matter because the senator is "worse than any Democrat." The president added that the Maine lawmaker's frustrations were "totally staged" as part of a political scheme.

It was a peek into a curious perspective: Trump believes criticisms of him can't be sincere, so they must be part of a plot. He peddled a related line at yesterday's press briefing:

"Remember it was all ventilators and the reason it was all ventilators, 'They said there's no way he'll ever be able to catch this one.' And not only did we catch it, we are now the king of ventilators all over the world. We can send them anywhere; we have thousands being made a week and they are very high quality. And that wasn't playing well, so then they said, 'Testing, testing, oh we'll get him on testing.'"

When a reporter asked why he sees the focus on testing as a personal attack, Trump added, "It's not bipartisan; it's mostly partisan."

The president whose political persona has been shaped by bizarre conspiracy theories continues to see plots against him in every corner. As Trump argued yesterday, governors pushed for increased ventilator production, not because it's a life-saving medical device, but because "they" were creating a political test.

Similarly, the president believes that the focus on ventilators "wasn't playing well" -- which is to say, it wasn't paying political dividends for his rascally critics -- so "they" decided to challenge the White House on testing. His perceived foes, Trump said, are saying this because they want to "get him."

In reality, there is no political conspiracy. Governors want ramped up testing, not to "get" Trump, but because public-health officials have explained the importance of testing as a prerequisite to re-opening society.

There is no partisan scheme. As CNN's Daniel Dale explained, "The Republican governors of Ohio, Nebraska, Maryland and Massachusetts, Republican Senate health committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander and other Republicans have all spoken in the last week about challenges obtaining testing materials or the need for more testing.... Among the many people who have said that far more testing is needed for an optimal reopening of the country are Trump's own former Food and Drug Administration chief, Dr. Scott Gottlieb; professors at Harvard University and numerous other academic institutions; and corporate executives who directly conveyed their message to Trump on a phone call last week."

This is about more than Trump's unfortunate paranoia. If the president genuinely believes calls for ramped up testing are little more than a plot to "get him," he may be less likely to take the policy prescription seriously.

For the public's sake, Trump needs to understand that this is not a plot; it's a real piece of the puzzle he's eager to solve.