Trump hits campaign trail despite national stay-home edict
President Trump on Tuesday flew to Phoenix on Air Force One to visit a face mask manufacturing facility. It was a thinly veiled political junket that contributed more to his reelection hopes than to fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The costly round trip followed a staged interview for television at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, using the seated statue as a prop. With public campaign events stalled by the social distancing guidelines barring giant rallies, Trump is turning to transparent gimmicks to keep his reelection chances afloat.
He already had commandeered the White House press briefing room for the same purpose, using it to boast repeatedly and erroneously of success in combating the coronavirus. He had used the briefings as a bully pulpit against White House reporters, labeling them perpetrators of “fake news” and insulting them personally.
The president also appears to have effectively muzzled the federal government’s prime health care expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health. House and Senate committee plans to summon Fauci to testify have been interrupted by White House objections.
At the same time, after insisting he had total control in dealing with the pandemic, Trump has done an about-face, dumping the difficult chore in the laps of the state governors. He has left to them the critical task of testing for existence of the virus along with its huge financial cost.
He has rejected the idea that the federal government should be the “shipping clerk” for the various health-protecting masks, gowns and other essential supplies required by the care-giving health and hospital workers in the various states.
In all this, one principal state leader, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has conspicuously been headlining the pack in demonstrating innovative ideas and actions, to the obvious irritation of Trump, who has been left to be the tail trying to wag the dog.
In almost daily long press briefings to reporters in Albany, carried nationally by cable and many network stations, Cuomo has become the face of the anti-virus fight, rather than the president of the United States.
In the process, the son of the late New York Gov. Mario Cuomo has begun to be mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, but he has said not this time. He is considered a strong Biden supporter.
However, the wide praise bestowed on Cuomo by the press has clearly rankled Trump and spotlighted his own mismanagement of the greatest political and governing crisis of his presidency. Increasingly, it looms as the prime barrier to his reelection in November.
But Biden himself must also cope with the campaign hiatus imposed by the pandemic, which is hampering normal political campaigning, as well as his usual effusive personal connecting.
As he strives from a basement home bunker in Wilmington, Del., to lay out his policy agenda to defeat Trump, Biden’s long experience in Washington and reputation for working across the partisan divide should be among his strongest appeals to voters.
The two Democratic strategists who orchestrated Barack Obama’s 2008 election, David Axelrod and David Plouffe, have urged him to beef up his digital operation, to combat that of Trump’s well-financed campaign. But in the end, Biden’s quest to get America back to a new normal could decide the outcome in his favor.
Jules Witcover’s latest book is
“The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance
to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books.