When President Trump is confronted with bad poll numbers, his usual reaction — at least publicly — is all denial, no self-reflection. But if the president wants to know why the gap between him and Joe Biden in The Washington Post-ABC News poll has grown from two points in March to 15 points today, his advisers only need show him one other number from that poll: 54 percent of Americans now trust Biden to better handle the coronavirus pandemic, compared with just 34 percent who trust Trump; in March, it was 45 for Trump to 43 for Biden — a 22-point swing. And if Trump wants to know why that number has shifted so radically, those same advisers can play back his interview on this week’s edition of “Fox News Sunday.”

First came the litany of familiar falsehoods about the pandemic response so far: “Cases are up because we have the best testing in the world” — when case numbers have risen far faster than tests. “We have one of the lowest mortality rates in the world” — when the United States is actually among the highest. “99.7 percent [of] people are going to get better” — when the current scientific consensus is that the fatality rate is at least twice the 0.3 percent the president suggests. The virus is “going to disappear” — when there’s no evidence that will happen.

Then came the parade of foolhardy policies. “There’s going to be a funding problem … when they don’t open their schools” — even though Trump can’t cut that funding without congressional approval. “I would consider not signing [a new stimulus bill] if we don’t have a payroll tax cut” — even though conservative economists consider such a tax cut ineffective. And he won’t order a national mask mandate because “I want people to have a certain freedom” — even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in the past week that the virus could be brought under control with a one- or two-month mandate.

But most pathetic was that, amid a recession and a pandemic, the president is obsessed with proving he’s actually really smart. When host Chris Wallace pointed out that, despite Trump campaign attacks on Biden’s acuity, more voters see Biden as mentally sound, Trump snapped, “Let’s take a test right now. Let’s go down — Joe and I will take a test. Let him take the same test that I took.” When Wallace said that he’d taken the test as well and “it’s not that” hard, Trump turned on him: “Yes, the first few questions are easy. But I’ll bet you couldn’t even answer the last five questions.” Wallace replied dryly, “Well, one of them was count back from 100 by seven.”

Any president pushing a brain-measuring contest with his opponent would be sad enough. But that this one is doing it while millions lose their jobs and thousands die because of an entirely preventable disaster is especially tragic. Even the president’s advisers realize this: The Trump campaign reportedly is moving away from attacking Biden’s fitness. But slightly reining in Trump’s ego is hardly enough. So long as the administration’s pandemic response is defined by falsehoods and blunders, this virus will remain a millstone around the president’s neck.

Even as the number of U.S. coronavirus cases passes 3 million, President Trump has repeatedly played down covid-19’s toll on the country. (The Washington Post)

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