‘The campaign panicked’: New report details what went into Trump’s about-face on easing social distancing restrictions

‘The campaign panicked’: New report details what went into Trump’s about-face on easing social distancing restrictions
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addresses a briefing on the latest information about the Coronavirus Friday, Jan. 31, 2020, in the James S. Brady Briefing Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks)

President Donald is now stressing that social distancing measures in the United States should remain in place until at least April 30 — which is a departure from earlier assertions that brick-and-mortar businesses should be reopened by Easter. In Vanity Fair, journalist Gabriel Sherman analyzes the change and some of the things that went into it.

One of the factors, Sherman notes in an article published on April 1, was Dr. Anthony Fauci urging him not to ease social distancing restrictions so soon. A source Sherman describes as a “former West Wing official” told him that Trump’s “view was: I need to show people that there is light at the end of the tunnel.” But Fauci as well as Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina stressed to the president that prematurely letting up on social distancing would cause unnecessary deaths.

“Trump’s latest tonal and tactical shift — and almost certainly not the last — was driven by several factors, both personal and political,” Sherman explains. “Trump learned that his close friend, 78-year-old New York real estate mogul Stan Chera, had contracted COVID-19 and fallen into a coma at New York Presbyterian.”

Bill White, a Trump donor in New York City, told Vanity Fair, “Boy, did that hit home. Stan is like one of his best friends.”

Another factor, according to Sherman, was seeing “the virus spread to Trump Country.”

A former West Wing official told Vanity Fair, “The campaign panicked about the numbers in red states. They don’t expect to win states that are getting blown to pieces with coronavirus.”

Trump’s tone on coronavirus has changed, at least for now. Back in January and February, he downplayed the severity of the crisis and even dismissed it as a Democratic “hoax.” But Trump certainly wasn’t using the word “hoax” during a White House press briefing on March 31 — when two of the key advisers on his coronavirus task force, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, warned how bad things could get in the U.S. in the weeks ahead. According to Fauci and Birx, the death toll in the U.S. from coronavirus could soar to 100,000-240,000 — and that’s if social distancing restrictions are kept in place. Minus those restrictions, the carnage could be even worse.

“Trump’s press conferences for the last few weeks had mostly been rally substitutes — boastful, contentious, featuring Trump as pitchman, selling the great job the administration was doing and the beautiful future after the novel coronavirus had magically flowed through, while compulsively blame-shifting to China, the media, governors, anyone but his own administration,” Sherman writes. “But on Tuesday the event turned somber, with Trump trying to put the best possible face on a terrifying set of metrics.”

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