White House eyes new pandemic message: 'We need to live with it'

The White House's line in March was that we were fighting a war we'd win. The line in July is that we should simply get used to a failing war.
Image: FILE PHOTO: A medical staff member treats a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista
A medical staff member treats a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), at Scripps Mercy Hospital in Chula Vista, Calif., on May 12, 2020.Lucy Nicholson / Reuters file
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By Steve Benen

Americans are confronting all kinds of new information about the coronavirus pandemic, and none of it's good. NBC News reported yesterday, for example, that over the first five days in July, the United States added 250,000 new coronavirus cases. The same report added that 10 states "have already notched record single-day highs in the number of cases since the start of the month."

A Washington Post report added this morning, "The seven-day averages in 12 states hit new highs.... The country’s rolling seven-day average of daily new cases hit a record high Monday -- the 28th record-setting day in a row."

Against this backdrop, it's likely that many Americans will grow disgusted, throw up their arms in despair, and start to see these tragic conditions as a painful new normal. And as it happens, that may be what Donald Trump and his team are counting on.

After several months of mixed messages on the coronavirus pandemic, the White House is settling on a new one: Learn to live with it. Administration officials are planning to intensify what they hope is a sharper, and less conflicting, message of the pandemic next week.... At the crux of the message, officials said, is a recognition by the White House that the virus is not going away any time soon -- and will be around through the November election.

"The virus is with us, but we need to live with it," is how one official told NBC News the administration plans to message on the pandemic.

This coincided with a Washington Post report that added, "White House officials ... hope Americans will grow numb to the escalating death toll and learn to accept tens of thousands of new cases a day."

Two weeks ago, White House National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow caused a bit of a stir when he told reporters that the United States would see "hot spots" with viral outbreaks, but Americans would "just have to live with that.”

What we didn't fully appreciate at the time was that Kudlow was apparently rolling out the White House's new talking points.

It's a rather dramatic departure from what Donald Trump told the public in recent months. In March, for example, the president twice tweeted, "WE WILL WIN THIS WAR." Nearly four months later, the White House's new posture is that Americans should simply grow accustomed to the failing war serving as the background noise of our public lives.

Perhaps the president could instead interest you in a conversation about statues, flags, and NASCAR?

One of the principal problems with the "we need to live with it" argument is that, in a rather literal sense, many Americans cannot live with it: the death toll has climbed above 130,000, and intensive-care units in many communities have been pushed to their breaking point.

What's more, there's the nagging detail -- which the public is likely to notice -- that around the world, there are plenty of advanced countries that are in vastly better positions than the United States, thanks largely to effective government responses.

NBC News' Benjy Sarlin summarized this nicely late last week, explaining, "One big problem with this message is that it’s getting hard to ignore all the countries that get to live without it."