The final Thursday in June saw jobless claims top 1 million for a 14th straight week and a frightening spike in coronavirus infections across the Sun Belt, compelling a growing number of Republican governors and members of Congress to issue urgent public health warnings.
President Trump called it a success story.
On another record day of new coronavirus cases — at least 40,184 — he tweeted that the resurgence of the virus is the result of “GREAT TESTING,” not of a contagion that appears to be spreading fastest in states that rushed to ease lockdown orders.
“If we didn’t test, we wouldn’t have cases,” he said later at a shipyard in Marinette, Wis. “But we have cases because we test. We’ve done an incredible, historic job.”
On Wednesday, Trump described his meeting with Poland’s president as the first visit by a foreign leader to the White House “after COVID,” suggesting the disease that has killed 124,596 Americans so far had disappeared.
With polls showing his reelection bid in serious jeopardy, Trump appears to be in deep denial, desperately trying to convince a nation facing prolonged public health, economic and social crises of an alternative reality in which the pandemic is over, polls are fake, and the media and Democrats are to blame.
In his comments at shipbuilding firm Fincantieri Marinette Marine, Trump said that Democrats are tougher to deal with than China and North Korea, two adversaries with which he has conducted mostly unsuccessful negotiations.
The presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, fired back from an event in Philadelphia, blasting Trump for his response to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“Donald Trump needs to stop caring about how he looks and start caring about what’s happening to the rest of America. He can’t bend it to meet his political wishes. There are no miracles coming,” Biden said.
“He’s like a child who can’t believe this has happened to him, and all his whining and self-pity,” Biden continued. “This pandemic didn’t happen to him. It happened to all of us. His job isn’t to whine about it. His job is to do something about it.”
Biden ripped Trump for pushing states to reopen quickly to revive a sputtering economy that Trump had hoped would be the central pillar of his reelection argument.
“The president wants us to believe there’s a choice between the economy and public health,” Biden said. “Amazingly, he still hasn’t grasped the most basic fact of this crisis: to fix the economy, we have to get control over the virus.”
Robert R. Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said Thursday that antibody tests showed that 10 people contracted the virus for every confirmed case of COVID-19, meaning the current caseload is a dramatic undercount.
He warned that Americans should continue to wear masks and take other precautions because the outbreak was still raging.
“The most powerful tool that we have is social distancing,” Redfield said.
As the coronavirus has raced across the South and Southwest in the last two weeks, fewer Republicans appeared to back the president’s rosy view of the danger to both their constituents and their political futures.
While Trump has refused to wear a protective mask in public, and has suggested that people wear them only to signal opposition to him, Republican leaders urged Americans to don facial coverings to curb transmission of the virus.
“Everyone should just wear a damn mask,” Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said this week.
With cases soaring in Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, paused his state’s reopening process on Thursday and moved to free up hospital space for COVID-19 patients. More than 4,300 people are hospitalized with the disease in Texas, twice as many as in early June.
The state’s two Republican senators also urged the Trump administration to reconsider its decision to cut off federal funding next week for 13 coronavirus testing sites, seven of which are in Texas.
“Now is not the time to end a program that is working and successfully increasing testing capacity — especially for underserved communities in the state,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, usually a Trump stalwart.
A new campaign ad from a group called “Republican Voters Against Trump” blasts the president for giving up. “While Trump might be finished dealing with the virus,” the narrator says, “the virus isn’t finished with us.”
Republican senators, their majority suddenly imperiled by a president in political danger, have begun to suggest publicly, however delicately, that Trump recalibrate his approach given his eroding support from suburban white voters and the elderly, two blocs that supported him in 2016.
Winning those voters back over the next four months, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said Wednesday, will likely require “a message that conveys, perhaps, a different tone.”
The president’s tweet storm Thursday may not be what Thune had in mind. Trump tweeted close to a dozen times before arriving in Wisconsin, reacting to television coverage of polls showing his weakening position in a general election against Biden.
“The Fake News and phony Fake Suppression Polls have never been worse. The Lamestream Media has gone CRAZY,” Trump tweeted, projecting confidence despite public and internal campaign surveys showing him far behind Biden.
Earlier, Trump criticized a Fox News host for not defending him after a pundit stated that Trump had put “the entire country in play for Democrats,” and attacked one of his 2016 Republican primary rivals, Carly Fiorina, after she said she would vote for Biden.
And he tweeted from Air Force One en route to Wisconsin that Black Lives Matter protesters’ demands for social justice amounted to “Treason, Sedition, Insurrection!”
The outbursts reflected Trump’s tendency to double down rather than concede a mistake, and a governing approach forged during a career in real estate and reality television, according to Michael D’Antonio, author of “The Truth About Trump,” a highly critical biography.
“If the task before him doesn’t focus on his own success and power, he’s not interested,” D’Antonio said. “He somehow managed to run casinos in a way that the house lost. He ran an airline into the ground. The bigger the venture was, the bigger the failure.”
Still, November is a long way off and Republicans are careful not to directly attack the president, risking his ire.
Republicans “need to look out for the best interest of their constituents, run their own race and take the positions they feel are the most responsible given the course of the pandemic in their states,” said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster. “Obviously the top of the ticket is going to have an effect on down-ballot Republicans. It’s just not clear yet how much.”