This, he said, would happen “sometime around the first of November, maybe a little before that.”
From the moment the words left his mouth, it was obvious that he was simply making it up. This was about two weeks before a midterm election, when nearly every single member of the House was on the ballot. They were going to fly back to Washington to vote in support of a massive bill that no one had seen? It defied logic, save for the obvious: Trump wanted people to think that Republicans were on the brink of cutting their taxes, in hopes that they’d vote for Republicans.
People did vote for Republicans that year — but an awful lot more voted for Democrats, giving the party a hefty majority in the House.
Trump is a salesman. And not only is he a salesman, he’s a guy who spent decades selling real estate in New York City, which, for the uninitiated, is a bit like spending decades selling used cars in Cleveland. Trump wants to know what he can do to get you into that Trump Organization property today, and if that means calling a 400-square-foot windowless apartment with no bathroom a “traditional Manhattan walk-up,” so be it.
If he similarly has to promise that a massive tax cut is imminent for you to sign another two-year lease on the House: promise made.
He’s invested most heavily, of course, in a treatment for the novel coronavirus. If he were able to, say, start distributing a vaccine before Nov. 3, perhaps voters would forget about their skepticism about how he’d handled the pandemic to date. Perhaps there would be a burst of optimism that leads to an outpouring of affection for the incumbent president and another four years in office.
The Food and Drug Administration, though, has decided that it wants to ensure that such a vaccine is safe for the public before they allow it to be administered. Trump tried to speed up the FDA’s process, backing down in the face of criticism. This, predictably, led to a complaint on Twitter.
There is no reason that a vaccine necessarily needs to be approved before Election Day beyond politics, of course. That Trump is indifferent to making clear his intent would be surprising, if not scandalous, were we not all effectively immunized against Trump’s behavior.
Without a vaccine to tout, Trump was clearly in the market for another October surprise. And with his coronavirus diagnosis last week, he stumbled onto one.
For months, Trump has been promising the imminent arrival of effective therapeutic treatments for covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. With the regularity of a landlord insisting that the plumber would be there tomorrow, Trump pledged that great things were in the works, over and over.
“A lot of people are looking into other things like, as an example, vaccines and therapeutics,” he said in May. “You know, therapeutically, we’re doing some things that are, I think, going to be released pretty soon that are amazing — and for the cure, ultimately for the cure. And I think the cure, the therapeutics and the vaccines that are happening right now, I think you’re going to be very impressed over the next number of weeks.”
Well, America, Donald Trump is happy to report that the cure has arrived, 20 weeks later.
In a video recorded Wednesday, Trump touted regeneron, a medication he received while briefly hospitalized last weekend.
“They call them therapeutic,” he said. “But to me, it wasn’t therapeutic. It just made me better. Okay? I call that a cure.”
In a pair of conversations Thursday, he made a similar claim.
“Regeneron was — I view it as a cure, not just a therapeutic,” he told Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo. “I view it as a cure because I took it.”
“What I took is incredible. To me, I viewed it as a cure,” he told Fox News’s Sean Hannity. “It’s incredible. And we’re going to get it to everybody, free of charge. It’s going to hospitals. It’s starting very soon.”
Got it? There’s a drug that’s not just a treatment but a cure for the coronavirus. And it’s going to be free and everyone’s going to get it.
And, heck, maybe a tax cut, too!
Regeneron, as far as we know, is not a cure. It’s not even clear that the treatment was actually responsible for any improvement in Trump’s condition. This is why controlled trials exist: to evaluate objectively whether there’s a real benefit from a drug. Such trials are currently underway, but not completed, meaning the verdict is still out.
By now, Americans should know better than to take Trump’s advocacy of a treatment at face value. The president insisted that hydroxychloroquine would probably prove to be an effective treatment for covid-19, apparently making a bet that he could get credit for its use should he get on the bandwagon for it early enough. Clinical trials, though, have failed to show a significant benefit from the drug — and some risk. Convalescent plasma, a therapy Trump embraced in an effort to show progress right before the Republican convention, hasn’t yet yielded a consistent, demonstrable positive effect.
Regardless, not everybody will get regeneron soon. The company that produces it is pushing the FDA to grant it emergency use authorization so that it can be deployed more widely to patients. It’s making 50,000 doses available to that end.
Or, enough doses to treat slightly more people than were confirmed to have contracted the virus Thursday.
This, too, should sound familiar: “Everyone will be able to get it” was Trump’s line about testing for months before widespread testing actually being available. He said in early March that anyone who wanted a test could get one, a claim that was so obviously false even at the time that it barely even makes it into collections of Trump’s most egregious coronavirus misrepresentations.
Let’s say for the sake of argument, though, that the government were to work to produce enough regeneron to treat 760,000 Americans, 1 out of every 10 recorded cases at this point. The Guardian reports that treatments like regeneron, known as monoclonal antibody treatments, generally run in the neighborhood of $96,000. Meaning that Trump may be committing to about $73 billion in spending — to treat a tenth of existing cases.
Again, the strategy isn’t mysterious. Trump wants to tell voters that he delivered a free, accessible cure to the virus that’s upended the country for the past seven months. He wants to shift the conversation about the pandemic away from “how did you let 210,000 people die” and toward “thank you for saving millions of lives.” The only problem is that even this promise is obviously not going to come to fruition any time soon, even if regeneron turns out to be the cure that Trump claims.
Still time to promise a tax cut, Mr. President.