'The dumbest thing imaginable': New report details how Trump shot himself in the foot in the 2020 race

'The dumbest thing imaginable': New report details how Trump shot himself in the foot in the 2020 race
President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks and answers questions from members of the press during a COVID-19 Coronavirus update, Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in the James S. Brady White House Press Briefing Room. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

Some pundits have speculated that if President Donald Trump hadn't downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, there would have been a rally-around-the-president effect — possibly helping him win reelection. But instead, millions of voters went to the polls believing that Trump was asleep at the wheel during a national crisis. The New York Times, in an article published on New Year's Day, takes an in-depth look at Trump's coronavirus response in the months leading up to the 2020 election and the ways in the president sabotaged his own reelection prospects.

The article was written by five reporters (Michael D. Shear, Maggie Haberman, Noah Weiland, Sharon LaFraniere and Mark Mazzetti) and examines some of Trump's many coronavirus blunders during the summer and early autumn. Discouraging mask wearing, according to the journalists, was one of the worst.

"Efforts by his aides to persuade him to promote mask wearing, among the simplest and most effective ways to curb the spread of the disease, were derailed by his conviction that his political base would rebel against anything that would smack of limiting their personal freedom," they note. "Even his own campaign's polling data to the contrary could not sway him."

A former White House senior adviser, quoted anonymously, told the Times, "Making masks a culture war issue was the dumbest thing imaginable."

Other missteps on Trump's part, the journalists explain, ranged from making Dr. Scott Atlas the dominant voice on his White House coronavirus task force to marginalizing Dr. Deborah Birx, a well-respected medical expert. Atlas, according to the Times, did nothing but make Trump look bad.

"(Atlas') theories, some of which scientists viewed as bordering on the crackpot, were exactly what the president wanted to hear — the virus is overblown, the number of deaths is exaggerated, testing is overrated, lockdowns do more harm than good," they explain.

Trump himself was hospitalized with COVID-19 in early October, and according to the Times, his actions after being discharged from Walter Reed Medical Center also hurt him politically.

"His own bout with COVID-19 in early October left him extremely ill and dependent on care and drugs not available to most Americans, including a still-experimental monoclonal antibody treatment — and he saw firsthand how the disease coursed through the White House and some of his close allies," the Times reporters recall. "Yet his instinct was to treat that experience not as a learning moment or an opportunity for empathy, but as a chance to portray himself as a Superman who had vanquished the disease."

White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, according to the Times, both believed that encouraging mask wearing would help Trump politically. But he resisted their advice. And Trump's disdain for mask wearing was so bad that two key members of the White House coronavirus task force — Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Robert Redfield — avoided the White House because they "worried that the disdain there for mask wearing and social distancing would leave them at risk of infection," the Times reporters explain.

The journalists conclude their article by noting that over a month after the election, Trump was still sending out a wrong message — this time, about vaccination.

"(On December 11), the FDA authorized the Pfizer vaccine," they observe. "In the weeks that followed, (Vice President Mike) Pence, Mr. Azar, Dr. Fauci and other health officials rolled up their sleeves to be vaccinated for the cameras. Mr. Trump, who after contracting COVID-19 had declared himself immune, has not announced plans to be vaccinated."

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