That was Wednesday night. The message the president sent on Thursday night, after 24 hours of repeated criticism for failing to ease concerns about coronavirus, couldn’t have been more different.
Instead, Trump turned to a familiar strategy on Twitter: misleadingly citing a poll to show overwhelming approval for his response to the global pandemic and lashing out at former vice president Joe Biden’s role in addressing the H1N1 outbreak of 2009.
“Sleepy Joe Biden was in charge of the H1N1 Swine Flu epidemic which killed thousands of people. The response was one of the worst on record,” Trump tweeted. “Our response is one of the best, with fast action of border closings & a 78% Approval Rating, the highest on record. His was lowest!”
Trump later tweeted a quote from Fox Business host Lou Dobbs, who was equally critical of the Obama administration.
The pair of tweets came at a time when Trump, who announced a 30-day travel ban from Europe to the United States to help fight the spread of covid-19, found himself clarifying a speech riddled with enough misstatements and omissions to cause the stock market to crash to its worst day in more than 30 years.
As The Washington Post’s Dan Balz wrote, the president’s address to the nation lacked the kind of direction, reassurance and confidence needed most for a country in crisis. This was noted in speeches by Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and talked about on cable news throughout the day.
On Thursday, the president sought to defend how his administration has responded to the spread of covid-19 in the United States, which has killed 41 and infected more than 1,600 people across nearly every state as of early Friday.
In his tweet, Trump did not cite the source of the high approval rating. He may have been referring to a Gallup poll, taken nearly a month ago when there was only a single American case, that found 77 percent of Americans were “generally confident in the federal government’s ability to handle a potential coronavirus outbreak.” That number, while it pertained to the federal government as a whole and not just Trump, topped similar polling figures taken during past outbreaks of Zika, Ebola, swine flu and bird flu.
But Trump’s claim that the Obama administration’s response to swine flu was “one of the worst on record” did not appear to be accurate. According to Gallup, 67 percent of Americans reported feeling “very/somewhat confident” in the federal government at the time of the 2009 epidemic — the second-highest confidence rating on record.
Gallup’s pollster also noted that the “high level of confidence” regarding coronavirus last month “may be related to the fact that all deaths from COVID-19 have occurred abroad, rather than on U.S. soil.” The first domestic coronavirus-related death was reported in late February, after the poll was conducted.
A more recent Quinnipiac poll released Monday asked Americans specifically about how Trump is handling coronavirus and reported that 43 percent approved while 49 percent disapproved. In comparison, the same poll indicated that a slightly higher percentage of respondents, 53 percent, had confidence in the federal government’s handling of the outbreak.
The outcry, however, appeared to do little to faze the president.
Trump continued going after Biden Thursday night, quoting a segment from Dobbs’s show in which the host called out the Obama administration for how it dealt with swine flu.
During his broadcast, Dobbs highlighted Biden’s April 2009 appearance on NBC’s “Today” show during which the then-vice president addressed the swine flu outbreak. “I wouldn’t go anywhere in confined places now,” he said at the time.
“The Obama White House had to immediately issue an apology for his remarks and any undue alarm that he might have caused,” Dobbs recounted Thursday, referring to Biden. “Alarm about a swine flu outbreak that took six months for President Obama to then declare a national emergency, one that ultimately killed 12,000 Americans and infected 60 million more.”
Dobbs didn’t mention that Obama had declared swine flu a public health emergency on April 26, 2009, when there were only 20 cases in the U.S. and no deaths. Soon after, the administration put in its initial request to Congress for funding, according to PolitiFact.
Biden has yet to publicly address Trump’s latest broadside. On Thursday night, shortly before Trump tweeted about him, the Democratic presidential hopeful shared a clip from a speech he gave earlier this week in Philadelphia.
“At this moment when there is so much fear in the country, and there’s so much fear across the world, we need American leadership,” Biden said in the video. “We need presidential leadership that’s honest, trusted, truthful and steady.”