The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump and his allies aren’t talking about the coronavirus death toll very much

President Trump offers a thumbs-up to the media on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return from Michigan on May 21. (Yuri Gripas/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
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When The Washington Post reviewed three weeks of President Trump’s coronavirus news briefings in the past month, we quickly came to a realization: Trump wasn’t talking about the virus’s victims very often. Over the 13 hours he spent at the lectern speaking to reporters and the country about the pandemic, he spent under five minutes offering his condolences to those who had lost their loved ones — half as much time as he spent promoting the drug hydroxychloroquine.

On April 24, the last day on which he held his regular briefing, the number of people in the United States who had died of covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, crossed the 50,000 mark. By Wednesday, that total had nearly doubled to more than 100,000.

Trump hasn’t talked about that new milestone much, any more than he did as the figure approached 50,000. On Thursday morning, he offered a tweet expressing his condolences to those who had lost loved ones.

It was out of character for several reasons — including that it seemed tonally different from most of his other tweets.

As if to make that point clear, within an hour came a much Trumpier tweet:

You may be the judge of why the two tweets seem so different.

Trump isn’t alone in paying little attention to the milestone. Over the course of the past two weeks, Democrats in the House and Senate have tweeted about or retweeted tweets mentioning the death toll 184 times.

Republicans have done so seven times.

That pattern extends to Trump’s allies in the media, as well. Fox News, the network Trump frequently promotes and constantly watches, has mentioned the milestone less than a third as much in the past week as has CNN or MSNBC. Fox Business, the highly political financial news network, has done so half as often as its sister network.

One reason that Democrats are mentioning the milestone so often, of course, is that they are tying Trump’s handling of the pandemic specifically to the death toll. Several the retweets from Democrats were retweets of this one from former vice president Joe Biden, Trump’s presumptive opponent in November’s general election.

In other words, politics are at play in both directions. Democrats see the death toll as a point of criticism of the president — and Trump, Republicans and Fox News seem as if they probably agree.

After all, consider again that second, Trumpier tweet from Thursday morning. It wasn’t just a tweet about the pandemic. It was a tweet that followed Trump’s formal expression of grief by casually blaming the toll on China.

Its intent was pointed, if unsubtle.