Kudlow’s most obvious efforts at massaging the economy, though, seem to echo those of Trump: assuring Americans and U.S. businesses that the coronavirus pandemic is under control.
That’s been his role for a while. In late February, Kudlow appeared on television to assure the country that the virus was contained “pretty close to airtight.” It wasn’t: The virus was already spreading without detection and the first case of that spread would be reported less than 48 hours later. It’s not just that Kudlow was incorrect. It’s that he was obviously incorrect at the time he made the claim he made.
Which brings us to this month. Trump’s decision in late April to allow the country to push back toward normal economic activity led to a reduction in state-level efforts to contain the spread of the virus. Trump’s goal was in part a sincere desire to get Americans back to work — and, in part, obviously aimed at getting the economy back on track for the election. Trump has since insisted that all is well and that any reemergence of the virus would be minor and easily contained.
Kudlow, a team player, has kept reiterating the same argument for the past week or two. Mirroring an opinion piece Vice President Pence wrote for the Wall Street Journal, Kudlow has repeatedly claimed that the country wasn’t seeing a resurgence of the virus that would constitute a second wave of infections.
“I don’t deny you’re seeing bumps in a bunch of states,” he said in an interview June 15. “Talking to the health people, this is nowhere near some kind of second wave. Nowhere near.”
“There are some hot spots. We’re on it,” Kudlow reiterated Monday. “We know how to deal with this stuff now, we’ve come a long way since last winter and there is no second wave coming.”
That was Monday, when the seven-day average of new cases in the United States was 27,645, according to a Washington Post analysis. That was already up 28 percent from the average June 15. Since Monday, that average has climbed another 12 percent, leading to one of the highest averages the country has seen since the pandemic emerged.
On Thursday morning, he was asked about this new peak in cases.
“The growth rate is only up a little bit,” Kudlow said. “We’re like, one-and-a-half percent growth. You know, that number was 40, 45 percent months ago.”
Well, sure. To put it in terms Kudlow (and Trump) would appreciate, this is like saying that your stock portfolio increasing in value from $10 million to $10.1 million is less important than when it increased from $50 to $75. That 50 percent jump in value was a larger increase — but resulted in $25, not $100,000.
“Do you still feel there’s no second wave coming?” Kudlow was then asked.
“We do,” he replied. He noted that there were “six or eight or nine states that have massive declines in case rates.”
But, he added a bit later, “we’re going to have hot spots. No question. We have it now. And, you know, Texas and parts of the south, the Carolinas, Arizona. We just have to live with that.”
That framing is by itself problematic: Americans will have to live with surges of cases which, of course, can lead to death. But it’s also a misleading argument.
Over the past month, there have been 27 states in which the seven-day average of new cases have increased. In five of those states, including Alaska and Montana, the increase has been large in percentage terms but small in terms of the number of daily cases that have resulted — a $50 to $75 type of increase. In seven states, though, the number of new cases each day is at least 1,000 on average.
In Arizona, the seven-day average number of new cases surged from 342 on May 25 to more than 2,700 on Wednesday. In South Carolina, the increase was from 177 to more than 1,000.
These aren’t simply hot spots. It’s a widespread increase in new cases in the South and West. Some of this is a function of expanded testing. In many of these states, though, testing has been flat or declined. In many, other metrics, like hospitalization data, indicate an increase in case totals. The increase in testing would also suggest that cases should increase across the board nationally. Instead, new daily cases have increased in only about half of the states.
Another way of looking at the increases is to consider the change in cases per capita over the past month. Twenty-four of the 27 states that have seen increased case totals have seen an increase of per capita cases of at least 50 percent. There have been 13 states, mostly in the Northeast, which have seen reductions in daily per capita cases of at least 50 percent over the past month.
Maybe Kudlow considers Texas, home to 9 percent of the country’s population, merely a “hot spot” that doesn’t reflect any significant pattern of increase. Regardless, what’s true now is what was true in late February: Kudlow’s presentation of what’s happening with the virus obviously and dramatically diverges from the alarming reality.
JM Rieger contributed to this report.