Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
President Trump’s daily press conferences are incomparable to anything politics has seen before. Topics range from him being number one on Facebook (for what nobody knows) anti-malarial drugs which have no conclusive proof of curing COVID 19, and whether the Tiger King should be pardoned.
Why any of this is coming out the President’s mouth at a press briefing, in the middle of a pandemic, is beyond a lot of people’s comprehension, but this bizarre display is still being broadcast to the nation. Trump is up to his old tricks of dodging hard questions or taking responsibility. Slamming the “lamestream media” for legitimate questions on why equipment is being sold to private sector companies over hospitals, or why healthcare workers aren’t properly protected, sometimes reporters can be labelled nasty for merely repeating his own words back to him. For many it is evident that clear advice needs to be found elsewhere, yet Trump’s incomprehensible briefings have serious consequences and could go some way in explaining why many Americans still aren’t practicing social distancing, despite the rapidly rising death toll.
For many onlookers, it would seem that with Trump’s incompetence on show every day, surely even the completely uninspiring, Joe Biden is a shoe in for the November elections. Yet the President is clearly trying to manoeuvre the federal system of governance to his advantage come election day.
The way the pandemic has been handled clearly shows the intricacies of the federal system in how it functions. It is largely the job of the governors of each state to distribute and manage its healthcare provisions, requesting support from the federal branch where necessary. The influence of the governor in how they chose to handle the situation, is reflected in how differently each state is responding with some states still resisting lockdown.
Yet this is where Trump’s play comes to his advantage. Each state in his eyes is an electoral opportunity which is reflected in his how he has been talking and, more crucially, acting. The consequences of the virus were first seen in New York and California. These highly populated states with large metropolitan centres were of course going to be at risk for these reasons. However, Trump still adopted a fairly brazen approach to the virus at this point; claiming churches would be open at Easter and the number of deaths would soon be back down to zero. His attitude towards the governors of the states’ most in need, these Democrat states, became apparent by him stating “If they don’t treat you right, I don’t call,”. That, as clear is day, was Trump saying he was determining who gets help by whether their governor was his political ally or not.
As the virus spreads across America and the scale of the pandemic in terms of both health and economic repercussions can no longer be down-played, Trump has changed his tone and at last recognising the severity of the situation. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a close ally of the President, has now finally placed a stay at home order on the state after weeks of packed beaches of spring breakers. Despite his slow response DeSantis received 100% of his equipment request within days.
This week Colorado Democrat Governor Polis pleaded for the return of 500 ventilators, which he has arranged from a private company but were intercepted by the federal government. A couple of days later Trump tweeted that he had sent 100 ventilators at the request of Colorado’s Senator Gardener, a Republican in a swing seat. That is 1% of the 10,000 that Governor Polis requested nearly a month ago. This favouring of Republican politicians’ request is going to cost lives.
The Governor of California has come out praising the President for his help. This may be genuine as Governor Newsom has coped well in controlling the outbreak. Yet, there has been strong suggestions from political aides that leaders are too scared to come out against Trump, so they don’t jeopardise receiving vital equipment.
Trump is now claiming to have ultimate authority when it comes to reopening the economy, CNN reporter Kaitlin Collins reminded the President that was absolutely not the case but was sternly told to stop probing. Journalists must work together in the briefing room to not allow the President to get away with saying things which are in such clear breach of the constitution, follow up after follow up if necessary. If Trump’s lies gain any traction, he will spin his 2020 campaign to assign all mishandling of the crisis to the Governors whilst he claims all responsibility for getting the country back to normal.
How this will all play out for Trump’s election campaign is unknown. It is clear that red states have been slower on implementing social distancing orders. For less populous states, this may work in Trump’s favour due to the disparities in the electoral college system. Yet if the death toll continues to ramp up in Republican states with larger metropolitan areas, the flaws of Trump’s handling of the crisis will be laid bare. What is known is that for all Trump’s talk of ratings and allies, the President is in re-election mode. This tells you all you need to know; against a backdrop of thousands of deaths and in the Easter week where he stated, incorrectly, churches would be open, this is a game of politics for Trump.