“They seem to be protesters that like me and respect opinion, and my opinion is the same as just about all of the governors,” Trump said. “They all want to open. Nobody wants to stay shut. But they want to open safely. So do I. But we have large sections of the country, right now, that can start to think about opening.”
As has been the case since he entered the White House, the group that is likely to have the most sway over the president is his base — regardless of its relatively small share of the population.
Here was the scene in Michigan, according to The Post’s Dave Weigel:
For miles, thousands of drivers clogged the streets to demand Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) ease restrictions and allow them to go back to work. They drowned downtown Lansing, Mich., in a cacophony of honking. They blared patriotic songs from car radios, waving all sorts of flags from the windows — President Trump flags, American flags and the occasional Confederate flag.But in the massive demonstration against Whitmer’s stay-at-home executive order — which they have argued is excessive and beyond her authority — the pleas from organizers that protesters to stay in their vehicles went unheeded. Many got out of their cars and crashed the front lawn of the capitol building, with some chanting, “Lock her up!” and “We will not comply!”
Trump could have affirmed his supporters or discouraged them from gathering publicly to protect their health and those with which they come in contact. But he didn’t. At the same time he is putting the onus on their governors to open states, Trump seemed simpatico with those who think they are being overprotective. As a result, his words appeared to tacitly encourage them.
LIBERATE MINNESOTA!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
LIBERATE MICHIGAN!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 17, 2020
But many Americans perhaps aware of these protesters’ influence are highlighting the problems with taking cues from this group. Along with flags showing their support for Trump were Confederate flags — the banner of those who embarked on a Civil War to keep black people enslaved. And they also stood outside the Michigan state Capitol chanting “Lock Her Up!” — the anti-Hillary Clinton chant that originated during the 2016 presidential campaign — despite Whitmer having done nothing illegal.
John Weaver, a Republican who co-founded Project Lincoln, a conservative effort to defeat Trump, highlighted the racist undertones in these protests: “These professional white victim protesters are the same knuckleheads who turn out when given the ham radio call from deep within the MAGA bunker, complete with racist Confederate flags and armed to the teeth. Don’t fall for this media.”
But many of the protesters appeared mostly motivated by a desire to get the economy running, having already experienced layoffs and seen small businesses fold with fears of worse happening.
“A lot of Republicans and conservatives feel there might be an overreaction to all of this,” tea party organizer Richard Viguerie told The Post’s Jeff Stein and Robert Costa. “We’re all anxious to get back. Conservatives feel the government has overreacted, and it’s got to end.”
There are things the states need to do before reopening, public experts said, including implementing widespread testing and identifying those who have been in contact with people infected by the coronavirus. They also advise expanding health-care capacity and insuring that there’s been a sustained reduction in new cases for at least 14 days — the incubation period for the virus.
Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said on CBS News’s “Face the Nation” that lifting all restrictions next month would probably mean that “by July or August, we could be back in the same situation we are now.”
“Maybe some states can open up mid-May,” said Murray, who created one of the most widely cited coronavirus models. “But we have to be very careful and make sure that we don’t sort of lose all the effort that the American people have put into closures by premature opening.”
Recent polling is probably reinforcing any anxiety Trump has about the 2020 election. And his team has long made it clear that one of their top strategies is turning out the base that has been most loyal to Trump. It’s impossible to know for sure how Trump will lead in the upcoming months, but one can be certain that his decisions will be greatly influenced by the anxieties, fears and concerns of the group that sent him to Washington in 2016: his base.