The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion More Republican casualties from Trump’s coronavirus denial

President Trump listens during a meeting with Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) in the Cabinet Room of the White House on May 20. (Evan Vucci/AP)

When red-state governors threw open the doors of businesses and public venues a few weeks ago — before infection rates dropped and without a robust testing or tracing system and strict social-distancing guidelines — the result was entirely predictable. Red-state governors boasted that they had a better idea than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They insisted they were smarter and tougher than governors following a go-slow approach. On May 19, I wrote: “If premature, rash and uninformed decision-making leads to unnecessary deaths, governors, candidly, will have blood on their hands. And the country will have a catastrophe in the making.” That is precisely what happened.

The Post reports: “Texas and its largest city, Houston — the fourth biggest in the country — are reaching new peaks in coronavirus hospitalizations amid a wave of warnings from officials that infections in many states are surging.” Hospitalizations in Texas reached more than 2,200 on Saturday. But it’s not just Texas. The Post notes that “hospitalizations related to the virus are up more than 10 percent since Memorial Day in at least 10 states — more than 120 percent in Arkansas and nearly 75 percent in Arizona."

Those three red states are paying the price for their governors’ arrogant and reckless disregard of expert advice. The red-state governors, who curried favor with President Trump by putting the economy over health, must be held accountable for the horrible result.

It may be that both bad policy and resistance to mask-wearing (now a staple of MAGA tribal identity) have hurt Trump’s most loyal supporters. The Economist reports that in 2016 Trump won 87 percent of the nearly 1,300 counties where the disease is appearing for the first time in the seven weeks leading up to June 7. In addition, “As the disease spreads, it touches different sorts of people in different sorts of places. ... By the end of May, more than half the residents of newly infected counties lived in outer suburbs, smaller towns or rural areas. Almost half of those counties were in the South.”

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In Arkansas (home to Trump sycophant Sen. Tom Cotton), a debacle is unfolding. The Daily Beast reports that “there are few states whose experience of the coronavirus pandemic has shifted more radically in recent weeks than Arkansas. On Friday, the state reported that there were 731 new cases, a record increase. Those numbers brought the cumulative total there to 11,547, of which 3,764 were active. At last count, 176 people had died from the virus.” Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) might regret bragging that he succeeded in keeping his state largely open because of “the tenacity, grit and heart of our residents.”

There are a number of takeaways here. First, Republicans might not be so cavalier about the virus and so dismissive about wearing masks when the pandemic is no longer just a New York or New Jersey problem. Ignoring, denying and minimizing the coronavirus was self-destructive. It remains to be seen whether Republicans will rethink their attitudes, reevaluate their faith in science-denying Republican leaders and revise their behavior as the hospitalization and death rates soar.

Second, should red states such as Texas need to shut down again, the political damage to Republicans and the damage to their economies could be severe. There is something to be said for listening to experts and devising a data-driven approach to a global pandemic.

Third, as Trump’s most loyal supporters experience an increase in infections, his big rallies and his planned convention in Florida might seem less like a love-fest and more like an abusive, codependent relationship. Seriously, haven’t his disinformation, obsession with the stock market and quack medical suggestions done enough damage?

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