As reported in retrospective accounts of the 2020 presidential campaign, President Donald Trump’s political gurus came to him early in the year with internal polling data that showed the president had a good shot at winning re-election. The only thing that might complicate a smooth glide to four more years, they told him, was the pandemic that had hit American shores and was spreading in unpredictable directions.
A wise and compassionate leader, or at least a competent politician seeking to protect his political fortunes, would have responded to that news with some sort of comprehensive national plan to attack the virus, thereby demonstrating how hard he was trying to mitigate the suffering. Trump, being neither wise and compassionate nor competent, instead chose to deal with COVID-19 by employing the only tactics that have ever worked for him: denial, deflection, disinformation and avoidance of responsibility.
Week after week, month after month, through the spring, summer and fall, Trump kept claiming the pandemic would miraculously disappear. He acted, not like a president, but like a used car salesman trying to prevent a customer from peering under the hood of a bad deal. This time, his obfuscation and untruths were simply too obvious to everyone dealing with the national trauma of social distancing, economic shutdowns, closed schools, overwhelmed hospitals, rampant infections and relentlessly rising death tolls.
Trump’s huge failure on COVID-19 is likely what made the difference in a fairly close election. He probably would never have won a popular vote majority, but he could have squeaked out wins in Pennsylvania, Georgia and other states where Joe Biden’s margin of victory was slim and gotten an electoral college majority. He blew it and, as a result, COVID-19 remains with us for many months to come, while Trump will soon be disappearing from the center of the political stage.
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