Thanks to President Trump's multiple on-the-record interviews with Bob Woodward, the administration's Coronavirus has once again been thrust into the spotlight. This is not the political terrain on which Team Trump would prefer to be fighting this election, as its the centerpiece of the opposition's case against the incumbent. But while it's true that Trump made his own bed on those Woodward tapes, it's not like the ongoing global pandemic was ever going to truly diminish as a 2020 campaign issue. It's understandable why the Trump campaign wouldn't seek to highlight the issue, and would try to stick to well-worn talking points. But those talking points haven't exactly moved the needle on public opinion; the president's approval rating on this central issue has been consistently underwater by double digits.
The main premise of Joe Biden's argument, which is unfalsifiable, is that his administration would have performed better under the same circumstances. Because "science," etc. There are various ways for Republicans to push back on this, including citing the Obama-Biden team's poor handling of H1N1, which was described by Biden's former chief of staff thusly: "We did every possible thing wrong. Sixty million Americans got H1N1 in that period of time, and it is just purely a fortuity that this isn’t one of the great mass-casualty events in American history." This is a far cry from the dumb, unscientific Ebola example some Biden defenders have raised. Another line of argument is to challenge Biden's timeline, which does present some challenges to his preferred narrative. This doesn't erase any of Trump's failures or incoherence. But it pushes back on the alternative history Biden is peddling on various facets of this controversy and policy issue.
But perhaps the most troublesome line of questioning for Biden on this whole front involves his campaign's decision to showcase New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's handling of the virus at the Democratic National Convention (Cuomo's speech was breathtakingly brazen), during which the nominee himself endorsed Cuomo's approach, thanking him for his "example" to the country:
New York has suffered -- by far -- the most Coronavirus deaths in the United States. Along with New Jersey, Cuomo's state is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the country on death rate. Some of New York's travails arrived through no fault of its leadership (though Cuomo has increasingly refused to accurately blame China, as a means of dissing Trump, whom he ludicrously blames for the disease's arrival), but the incompetence and dysfunction of Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio undeniably made matters worse. One of the state government's deadliest failures was its lethal policies involving nursing homes and long term care facilities. When the extent of this unfolding disaster became unavoidable, the Cuomo administration finally reversed it and tried to memory-hold the original order. Worse, realizing the problem they'd created, they quietly changed the rules for counting LTC deaths, mid-pandemic, in order to lower that particular death toll. This is known as a cover-up. And it effectively proves that Cuomo knows his triumphalist nonsense, including self-aggrandizing posters and took tours, are built on a bold lie.
In short, Andrew Cuomo lost more people to COVID than any other governor in America. His state's death rate is uniquely terrible. His leadership was rife with glaring and costly flaws. And he's engaged in an active cover-up of his biggest failure, which contributed heavily to thousands of New York seniors' deaths -- the statistics of which are being shamelessly manipulated for political reasons. And yet he's declared victory, pretending that he flattened the curve. In reality, the virus flattened his state, horrifyingly burning through the vulnerable population. When you look at New York's COVID trajectory compared to, say, Texas (several prominent red state governors were excoriated for their decisions, which have proven to be -- relatively -- quite successful), you see how Cuomo presided over the tragic embodiment of the "what not to do" curve:
NY vs. NJ vs. TX COVID Deaths Per Million Per Day: 9/13/20 pic.twitter.com/UX80YoUOZ1— Hold2 (@Hold2LLC) September 14, 2020
Joe Biden should be pressed, hard, on why he believes Cuomo's New York is a model for America on Coronavirus. If his whole premise is "Trump failed, and I'd do better," why has he endorsed literally the deadliest state response the whole country, marred by a cover-up of the scope of seniors' deaths? The press cannot be counted on to ask glaringly obvious questions along these lines, including an array of pointed follow-ups. Such questions are generally reserved for Republicans. So it's up to the Trump campaign and the GOP to push on this. I understand why they may not want to dive headlong into Coronavirus fights when other issues play better for them. But it's a top issue that isn't going away. They should go on offense and push Joe Biden on his astonishing embrace of the catastrophic and scandalous New York model. This might be a good point for Trump himself to raise at the debates, if he ever bothers to prepare for them. I'll leave you with this, which is a reaction to a important analysis from former FDA chief Dr. Scott Gottlieb, which notes that a total focus on the White House's decision-making processes and outcomes is only part of the relevant story (and yes, this early ignorance based on other failures hobbled state and local governments, too, including hard-hit places like New York):
It's an oversimplification to say the problem was Trump didn't take virus seriously, or didn't trust scientists. The problem was he was erratic. Talking virus down while listening to Fauci on lockdowns. Tweeting LIBERATE MICHIGAN then slamming Kemp for opening up Georgia, etc.— Philip Klein (@philipaklein) September 14, 2020