That’s exactly what’s happened, so the White House is pretending it never placed the wager in the first place.
Vice President Pence appeared Wednesday on CNN and, with a straight face, said Trump never “belittled” the threat.
“I don’t believe the president has ever belittled the threat of the coronavirus,” Pence said, adding: “I think he’s expressed confidence that America will meet this moment."
Trump, too, has attempted to rewrite this portion of his personal history, saying at Tuesday’s briefing, “I think from the beginning my attitude was that we have to give this country — I knew how bad it was. All you have to do is look at what was going on in China, it was devastation.”
Trump also tweeted two weeks ago, “I always treated the [coronavirus] very seriously.”
Revisionism has been a staple of Trump’s tenure, but in few instances has it been as blatant as this.
The Fix has kept a running timeline of Trump’s comments downplaying the threat of the coronavirus going back as far as January. You can watch some of them in the video above. Trump has of late done more to acknowledge the danger posed by the virus, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t downplay it or belittle it before. He did so, regularly, while straining to avoid even entertaining worse outcomes.
Looking over the timeline, a few examples spell this out the most clearly. First we’ll start with things Trump said which he now says the polar opposite about.
On whether this would be a pandemic:
- Jan. 22: “No, we’re not at all [worried about a pandemic]. And we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China.”
- March 17: “I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”
On comparing this to the flu:
- Feb. 26: “This is a flu. This is like a flu. … It’s a little bit different, but in some ways it’s easier, and in some ways it’s a little bit tougher.”
- March 9: “So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on. At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”
- March 31: “It’s not the flu; it’s vicious. … This is not the flu.”
Saying it was “under control”:
- Feb. 24: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.”
- March 15: “This is a very contagious virus. It’s incredible. But it’s something that we have tremendous control over.”
- March 16: “I’m not referring to ‘it,’ meaning the [virus being under control]. … No, that’s not under control for any place in the world. … I was talking about what we’re doing is under control. But I’m not talking about the virus.”
And finally, here are some of most illustrative comments — ones that you really can’t read in any other way except that Trump was downplaying or belittling the threat.
“It will all work out well,” he said Jan. 24.
“We think it’s going to have a very good ending for it. So that I can assure you,” he added Jan. 30.
“I think the virus is going to be — it’s going to be fine,” he said Feb. 10.
“When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that’s a pretty good job we’ve done,” he said Feb. 26.
“It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear,” he said Feb. 28.
“I think we’re going to get through it very well,” he said March 11.
Trump’s argument is that he’s an optimistic person and has tried to be a “cheerleader” for the United States, and Pence says Trump was trying to project confidence. But many of these quotes went way past reassuring people and ventured into actually predicting this would be a minimal problem. Today, the White House is setting a goal of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths.
As I wrote in that Feb. 28 piece, the danger in Trump’s effort to minimize the threat was “if it does get anywhere near as bad as some have warned, and they spent all this time downplaying that possibility. At that point, these early pronouncements wouldn’t just look bad politically; they would have arguably cost lives.” When you minimize a threat, and people expect it to go away, they take it less seriously, and the situation can be exacerbated.
We have arrived at the moment in which Trump’s effort to downplay the threat has been revealed for the foolish bet it was. So about the only play the White House has is to totally rewrite that history.