Donald vs. the Plague

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Dr. Malcolm Cross

Is President Trump doing all he can to fight the coronavirus epidemic?  Will his efforts succeed in minimizing the deaths the epidemic is likely to cause?  Having no background in science or medicine, I can’t answer these questions effectively, but I can discuss the far less important issue of the possible impact the epidemic may have on presidential politics this year.

So what impact will President Trump’s response to the corona virus have on his chances for re-election?  The answer depends on what impact the corona virus has on the economy.  If it has no impact, it will have no impact on the President’s fate, no matter what he does.  If it damages the economy, it will cause his defeat this November, no matter what he does.

President Trump is currently receiving much criticism for his initial responses to the virus, and some praise as well.  His critics say he’s downplayed the threat and has not adequately prepared for its consequences.  His supporters have praised his calm demeanor in reporting on his administration’s efforts, his deference to Dr. Fauci, and his travel bans.

But neither the praise nor the criticism will affect his popularity or his re-election chances.  Both loathing and love for the President are now practically set in stone.  Nothing he says or does can possibly win over his opponents or disillusion his supporters.  Were he to personally find and distribute a cure for the coronavirus tomorrow, his opponents would criticize him for not having done so sooner.  If the virus were to cause 100,000,000 million deaths, his supporters would still credit him for not losing more.  In short, his actions to date have neither moved the needle on his personal popularity, nor are they likely to do so in the future.  

Unless the economy tanks.

As I’ve written before—and regular readers of this column can be pardoned for thinking I’m becoming tediously repetitive, if not already there—the single greatest factor in determining the outcome of a presidential election, especially when an incumbent is seeking a second term, is the public perception of his handling of the economy.  The reason is simple:  The state of the economy affects more people more personally than any other policy area.  What wars we fight are obviously of profound interest to those who have loved ones actually fighting them, but they’re not necessarily of interest to  those who think they have no personal stake in them.  But everyone is affected by inflation or unemployment.   Thus, If the president commands public approval, he cannot lose.  If he does not command public approval, he cannot win, no matter what other achievements he can claim.  A good recent example is the case of President George H. W. Bush.  In 1991 his public approval ratings were in excess of 90%, based on his expert handling of the Persian Gulf War.  The next year he was defeated for re-election with the smallest percentage of the popular vote of any incumbent in political history, with the sole exception of William Howard Taft in 1912.  Public disapproval of his economic management far exceeded whatever good will he had earned as a leader in foreign and military policy.

And there’s not necessarily a relationship between what a president does, and what credit or blame he elicits.  Ronald Reagan earned much praise and an easy re-election victory in 1984 following the sharp decline in inflation in his first term.  Yet the decline of inflation was due at least in part to the economic policies of Jimmy Carter and Paul Volcker, whom Carter had appointed to head the Federal Reserve System specifically to fight inflation.  But Carter earned no credit for his successful efforts—only blame and a humiliating defeat in 1980 for not having acted sooner.

One can only hope that the actions taken by the President will effectively combat the epidemic, minimizing casualties and, as a bonus, reduce the epidemic’s harm to the economy.  And this outcome should satisfy all Americans, regardless of their attitudes toward President Trump.  Of course, those who support his re-election (myself included) will be pleased that his re-election chances will remain strong.  But those who seek to replace him should still celebrate the end of the virus and its threat to our lives and country.  And as an added bonus, they will have the survival of a prosperous and vibrant political system which grants them the inalienable right to work for their own causes as well—including, if they so desire, his defeat.


Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

3 Comments

  1. I think this analysis is somewhat problematic because it doesn’t take into account the “sea change” that has occurred in both the ideological and political landscapes in just the last 3 1/2 years. Neither Bush EVER had the strong base of support that Trump enjoys. More importantly, the Democrats have never run candidates who are actually vying to see who can appeal the most to the far Left.

    As you say, Trump “haters” will hate him no matter what. Likewise, his base will support him in the same way. So, we are in agreement, I believe, that the election will be won or lost in the “middle”. But, who makes up that middle today? I believe it is populated by those Independents and blue collar Democrats who threw the election to Trump in 2016. It is these voters the Democratic candidates are doing their level best to alienate so as to appear the most “woke”.

    Joe Biden has unapologetically stated that, if elected, he will cease all fracking. There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of formerly Democratic voters who work in the “oil patch” who know their very livelihood is in danger under a Biden administration.

    The same holds true for Democrat gun owners. Biden’s stating that he will put Beto in charge of gun “policy” practically assures that he WILL NOT get those votes, regardless of economics. These people value their 2nd Amendment rights just as much, if not more, than their pocketbooks.

    Then, there’s the abortion issue. Both Bernie and Biden are solidly in the abortion on demand camp. But, there are approximately 20 MILLION members of “Democrats for Life” in this country who place a higher value on morality than on economics.

    Finally, more and more Americans are starting to realize that Trump’s “America First” policies are NOT based on racism and xenophobia. Globalization has brought us to the point where China can simply refuse to supply us with the drugs so necessary to everyday life.

    It is unfortunate that, at least since FDR, the American people have come to look to the President, ANY President, as a “National Daddy”, responsible for taking care of everyone from cradle to grave. But, many of the sheep are beginning to realize that this election, unlike any in modern history, provides clear and distinct choices, individual freedom and police state totalitarianism.

  2. LOL … lol The folks at MarketWatch have been sick of Hannity and FOX Cable news with their constant misleading and lying programs and strike back everytime they get a chance and there have been lots of chances. Well here is their latest strike.

    https://www.marketwatch.com/story/fox-news-hosts-sean-hannity-and-laura-ingraham-have-changed-their-coronavirus-tune-in-a-big-way-2020-03-18

    Referenced Symbols
    DJIA
    -6.30%
    FOX
    -10.00%
    NWS
    -14.55%
    What a difference a few days, and a few thousand coronavirus cases in the U.S., make.

    On Fox News in recent weeks, downplaying the outbreak was all the rage. Pete Hegseth said “the more I learn about this, the less there is to worry about.” Jeanine Pirro said the mainstream-media “doesn’t reflect reality.” Ainsley Earhardt claimed “it’s actually the safest time to fly.” Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham talked about the press as “panic pushers” stirring up “mass hysteria.”

    And perhaps the most glaring of all came from Trish Regan over on Fox Business, who accused the “liberal media” of using the coronavirus “to impeach the president. Her monologue may have cost her the job, though she chalked it up to Fox’s “prioritizing its coverage during market hours.”

    The tone has clearly shifted among the notable right-wing personalities on the network, as you can see from this Washington Post video that racked up more than 5 million views overnight:

    The Fix

    @thefix
    How Fox News has shifted its coronavirus rhetorichttps://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/media/on-fox-news-suddenly-a-very-different-tune-about-the-coronavirus/2020/03/16/7a7637cc-678f-11ea-9923-57073adce27c_story.html …

    32.3K people are talking about this
    Tucker Carlson was notably absent from the compilation. The “Tucker Carlson Tonight” host strayed from his colleagues early when he described the virus as “a very serious problem.”

    The rest of the network now appears to be on board, with the “Fox & Friends” bunch spreading out across the studio on Tuesday to demonstrate best practices.

    “To be responsible, to show social distancing, all three of us are apart — same studio, plenty of distance,” Brian Kilmeade told viewers to start the broadcast.

    Meanwhile, the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. continues to rise as more testing options become available. There are now 6,510 cases and have been 114 deaths across the country, according to data aggregated by Johns Hopkins University.

    The fear is reflected in the stock market, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -6.30% down more than 2,000 points in Wednesday’s trading session.

    Fox News’s parent company, Fox Corp. FOX, -10.00%, shares common ownership with News NWS, -14.55%, the parent of MarketWatch publisher Dow Jones.

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