Blame the states. That’s Trump’s new excuse for the failure of his administration to provide the support and resources necessary to address the coronavirus pandemic. As governors call on Washington to help them get needed supplies like ventilators, masks and gowns, Trump recommends sterilizing and reusing contaminated equipment. He put his is idiot son-in-law, Jared Kushner, on stage to tell reporters that the states should have their own supply of ventilators and that the ones the US government owns belong to the feds.

Trump is distorting federalism to cast the blame on governors who face an unprecedented epidemic for overburdened hospitals and a rash of deaths that are already here in some states. He views the crisis through a political lens, trying to minimize the damage to his own re-election chances while creating scapegoats in governors like Gretchen Whitmer. He compared states to little countries and Kushner, without an ounce irony, said voters should note which elected officials are good managers and which are not. He was talking about governors but everyone else was looking at Trump. 

Another leader would use this opportunity to bring the country together. Franklin Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover, in large part, because Hoover did not believe the federal government should interfere with the economy, no matter how bad it got. Roosevelt came into office pledging to mount an aggressive response and he began his famous Fireside Chats to ease the anxiety of the country, letting the people know that the government was there to help. He was the original “I’m on your side” politician. While he can’t compete with the nationally televised press conferences Trump holds daily, Biden is striking a similarly compassionate tone. 

Trump is using the crisis to further divide the country. He told Vice President Mike Pence not to respond to blue state governors who were critical of the federal response. He said that governors needed to “treat us well” if they expected help from the administration. He sees this crisis like he sees everything else—a battle to be won and his adversary is not the virus but other political leaders. 

He’s also trying to manage the crisis like a business. States are competing for resources. Maybe it will drive the prices down for some things up but it will almost certainly death tolls up. The crisis demands a coordinated national response and Trump is thwarting it. He’s like Herbert Hoover except vindictive. It’s not just that he philosophically is opposed to helping states, he’s actively trying to damage his opponents. It’s recipe for disaster for which he the GOP will pay a steep political price.  

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