Election Questions for Republicans Gerry OShea
There are a few perplexing aspects of President Trump’s plans for re-election that make no sense to many political observers. It is difficult to understand how the president and his re-election team have failed to deal with some core issues and strategies of the campaign.
We are not talking about the President changing his views on the prevalence of racism in America or the Black Lives Matter movement, nor are we focusing on his adherence to the discredited trickle-down theory of economic development. Those policies and perspectives are part of the Republican brand for decades. Instead we are questioning their response in areas that are largely non-ideological.
The coronavirus epidemic emerged last February with President Trump dismissing the issue as a passing problem and thanking President Xi for his leadership in combating it.
However, as the situation worsened in the early months – February and March – he supported the leadership of Dr. Anthony Fauci and his colleagues in the Center for Disease Control (CDC). And Vice-President Pence’s Coronavirus Task Force was working well and had established credibility with the American people.
The leaders of other Western countries like Germany and France stressed to their people that they had to make real sacrifices and follow the protocols prescribed by the medical experts. Significantly, polls in Europe revealed that the people understood the depth of the challenge they faced and leaders like Angela Merkel in Germany and Emmanuel Macron in France saw their approval ratings shoot up significantly.
President Trump’s popularity was also enhanced when in the early months he allowed Dr. Fauci and company to call the shots based on their scientific expertise.
However, he rebelled against the idea of a long campaign to overcome the virus. His personality demands instant gratification, quick results. Waiting months, maybe longer, to beat the pathogen was unthinkable for him. There had to be some fast solution. So, he sidelined the scientists and assumed the lead role in the daily press conferences.
People heard him recommend hydroxychloroquine, a drug that the medical experts declared unsafe, and, on another occasion, he made the case that injecting a disinfectant might kill the pathogen, based on the logic that if it could achieve external body cleaning, it would have the same impact internally.
Clearly, he was out of his depth and inviting mockery especially in the late-night chat shows. Why did nobody intervene and stanch the damage? Surely someone like Senate Leader Mitch McConnell or Minority House Chairman Kevin McCarthy, seeing the harm being done to the Republican Party and its candidates up and down the country, should have pleaded for the popular Anthony Fauci’s return as the voice of the government in the pandemic.
The comedy of errors continued when it came to wearing masks which was strongly recommended by nearly all experts in the second half of the year. The current Director of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, a distinguished disease expert, stated recently that wearing a mask is almost as effective as a vaccination. President Trump gave some nodding approval to the practice but he scarcely ever wears one himself and most of his supporters at political rallies, following his example, do not come with their faces covered. He thinks of wearing a mask as a sign of weakness, contrary to the macho image he wants to convey.
By comparison, former Vice-President Biden and all his entourage scrupulously avoid appearing in public without face covers. In the recent debate, chaired by Chris Wallace, the President unbelievably mocked Biden for his commitment in this area, basically for adhering to guidelines laid down by his own CDC. Ironically, a few days later Trump contracted the virus and ended up wearing a mask going to Walter Reed Hospital while Biden magnanimously sympathized with his predicament.
Predictably, polls show that most people support mask-wearing for safety at a time when over 200,000 Americans have died from the virus and the tragedy is not relenting. Is there nobody in the big Republican Party who could tell the president that his obstinacy is costing the party votes, especially in the suburbs where his recklessness is seen as adding to the crisis.
Healthcare policy provides another puzzling example of poor planning. The Affordable Care Act (ACA), better known as Obamacare, is still on the books, but the Supreme Court may well end that when they issue a decision on its constitutionality a week after the election. If this happens, the situation will revert to pre-ACA days and insurance companies will no longer be mandated to cover pre-existing conditions.
The mid-term elections for the House of Representatives in November 2018 resulted in major gains by the Democrats. All the exit polls showed that the main reason for this unexpected rout of Republican candidates centered on the people wanting to keep the coverage provided by Obamacare.
Prior to the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump announced in a TV interview that he had a new healthcare policy ready, just to dot the I’s and cross the T’s. Various other senior Republican spokesmen made similar empty promises. Amazingly, for a mature political party, they are again fighting an election, which is being hailed as the most consequential one for fifty years, and they still don’t have a healthcare policy.
Why are they behaving in such a self-destructive manner? Do they expect that the results will be different from just two years ago? McCarthy and McConnell must know that this issue is in the forefront of people’s minds. Why haven’t they assembled their experts from conservative think-tanks and insisted that they draw up proposals for a modern healthcare system?
Climate change has been shunted aside by many Republicans as a liberal issue, but the air we breathe and the water we drink are increasingly concerns for all citizens. Trump withdrew from the modest proposals for change in the Paris Agreement. He said that damage by carbon emissions hasn’t been proven to his satisfaction and the raging wildfires in the West could have been avoided by better forest care.
Polls suggest that young people aged from 18 to 35 are very concerned about this issue. It is close to the top of their priorities and, not surprisingly, nearly two thirds of this group identify with the Democratic Party.
Donald Trump has closed off these voters and, according to surveys, they plan to vote in big numbers in November. Serious Republicans must realize that they have to modernize and develop policies that deal seriously with the vital area of climate change.
There is one other area where the Republican Party seems to be disconnected from most voters in the United States. Donald Trump in a few speeches over the years has shown an affinity for the strong arm of the police or for any organization showing male bravado in dealing with challenging crowd control situations.
In the recent debate he was asked to assure people that he would discourage violence by his followers in the event of a contested election. His answer was ambiguous and when he was further questioned about extremist white groups like the so-called Proud Boys he demurred with the disgraceful advice to them to “stand back and stand by.”
He refused to offer any clarification about what he meant by this instruction for forty-eight hours after the debate. Then, responding to serious pressure from members of his own party, he finally condemned white extremism. Many commentators considered his recalcitrance in dealing with this serious issue as a harbinger of worse pronouncements on what he deems appropriate strategies for maintaining law and order if he is re-elected.
The national polls and especially the assessments in the swing states suggest that Trump and the Republican Party are facing an unhappy electorate on November 3rd. Would that be the case if the president had stayed in the background and settled for wearing a mask and insisting on social distancing at his rallies, thus affirming the leadership of the CDC’s efforts to ameliorate the crisis?
Would he still be languishing in the opinion polls if he had instructed his team to prepare an alternative to the ACA? If, further, he engaged young voters with some serious ideas on global warming and he unambiguously condemned white extremist groups, then surely with all the advantages of incumbency, he would not be engaged in an election that will be uphill for him all the way until polling day.
Gerry OShea blogs at w