The two problems at the heart of Trump's false line on testing

Four months ago, Trump visited the CDC and bragged, "Anybody that wants a test can get a test." It wasn't true at the time and it's still not true now.
Image: Testing for COVID-19 at a drive-in testing site in San Diego, California
A San Diego County health nurse collects a sample from a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 testing site in San Diego, Calif., on June 25, 2020.Mike Blake / Reuters
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By Steve Benen

On the 4th of July, Donald Trump peddled a line on Twitter that, alas, was painfully familiar. "Cases, Cases, Cases!" the president wrote. "If we didn’t test so much and so successfully, we would have very few cases."

At this point, we could once again review how little sense this makes. We could explain that the cases would exist without the tests, but we wouldn't know about them. We could note how profoundly ridiculous it is for the president to keep pushing this nonsense, over and over again, for months. We could marvel at the absurdity of seeing Trump complain about virus testing as if it were some kind of annoyance. We could highlight the simple fact that increased testing alone doesn't fully account for the gut-wrenching recent growth in infections.

But today, let's skip these highly relevant angles and instead focus some attention on a root problem: Trump has apparently convinced himself that coronavirus testing in the U.S. has reached a successful stage. There's ample evidence to the contrary.

[Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego] said she had been trying since April to get more testing resources for Phoenix, both from FEMA and from the private sector. But testing, she says, remains woefully inadequate, especially for those who lack health insurance.

More than 20 percent of tests in Arizona are coming back positive now, Gallego told the New York Times. “Public health officials tell me that when you’re doing the appropriate amount of testing, it should be around 2 percent,” she said.

The Democratic mayor's comments coincided with an Arizona Republic report that said local residents "have reported delays in getting tested and waits of as long as three weeks to get results."

It's not just Arizona. Rachel had a segment on this late last week that's well worth your time if you missed it, shining a light on dramatic testing breakdowns in Texas. And Florida. And Utah. And California. And Georgia. And Alabama.

Waiting lists. Hours-long lines. Facilities and outlets that don't have enough tests to meet public demand.

On the surface, Trump's boast -- in effect, blaming a robust system of testing for the rising number of confirmed coronavirus cases -- is dangerously foolish. But just below the surface, the more fundamental problem is his misguided assumption that there's a robust system of testing already in place from coast to coast.

Exactly four months ago today, the president visited CDC headquarters in Atlanta and bragged, "Anybody that wants a test can get a test. That’s what the bottom line is.... Anybody that needs a test gets a test. We -- they’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful. Anybody that needs a test gets a test."

It wasn't true in early March. It's still not true in early July.

Let's also not forget that in May, Trump told reporters during a White House briefing, "We have met the moment, and we have prevailed." Pushed to clarify, the Republican said he was referring to testing, not the virus itself.

Regardless, the closer one looks at the system's ongoing failures, the more one wonders whether the president understands what "prevailed" means.