Perhaps it was only a matter of time before the two biggest stories in America collided.
The dominant story for nearly a week has been President Trump refusing to concede the election, even as more of his allies--from Karl Rove to pastor Robert Jeffress--acknowledge that Joe Biden will take office in January.
The emerging story is the autumn surge in the coronavirus, which has spread across a broad swath of the country and yesterday claimed its latest victim, Corey Lewandowski.
The convergence is Democrats and liberal commentators blaming the president and his fixation on challenging the election rather than ramping up efforts against Covid-19.
It hasn’t helped the president’s case that he hasn’t spoken a word in public in more than a week. It also hasn’t helped that Trump’s Twitter feed has been consumed by unproven allegations of voter fraud, and retweets of attacks on Fox News, which earned his ire with its election projections in Biden’s favor. There is one retweet of Sen. David Perdue, headed for a runoff in Georgia, saying the U.S. is working at record speech to develop vaccines and treatments.
Nancy Pelosi unloaded yesterday, saying “the president and the Republicans in Congress have ignored by delay — distortion — denial, deaths have been caused, and what are they doing now? Continuing to ignore in spite of these numbers.”
The House speaker said the Republicans are ignoring science and are “engaged in an absurd circus right now refusing to accept reality.”
That attack on Trump and the GOP is also becoming a staple on MSNBC and CNN. On “Morning Joe” yesterday, Mika Brzezinski asked: “Are they going to allow this president to manage the transition as terribly as he managed the coronavirus and willfully doing nothing, willfully refusing to use the powers of his presidency and help mitigate this pandemic.”
What’s driving this are the latest chilling numbers. There were more than 142,000 new Covid cases in the country on Wednesday, a 69 percent jump over the last two weeks. The daily death toll was 1,431.
And another record was shattered with more than 65,000 people hospitalized with the virus. That figure has doubled in just over a month.
This surge is blanketing red states as well as blue ones, rural areas as well as big cities. New restrictions are being imposed or resurrected. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has slapped a 10 p.m. curfew on restaurant, bars and gyms and limited the size of gatherings. New York City may shut down its public schools, again. Democratic and Republican governors are using people to wear masks.
The one bright spot is Pfizer’s announcement that its clinical trials have had 90 percent success with a vaccine, though there would be challenges in distributing it and storing it at extreme cold temperatures.
The president is irked by the timing. In a campaign fundraising letter, he writes that he has long warned that “the success of a coronavirus vaccine would only be announced after the Election. Pfizer and the others probably didn’t have the courage to make this HISTORIC announcement before November 3rd, because they hoped it would keep me from WINNING BIG.”
Pfizer’s CEO has flatly denied this, saying the encouraging results were announced last weekend as soon as they were available.
With Trump’s coronavirus task force remaining out of sight for weeks, the right has been energized by comments from a top virus adviser to Biden.
Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert from the University of Minnesota, told Yahoo Finance that the virus could be brought under control, with a boost to the economy, by a temporary lockdown. The feds could make up the lost workers’ wages, and borrow money to prop up small businesses, states and cities.
“If we did that, then we could lock down for four to six weeks, and if we did that, we could drive the numbers down,” Osterholm said.
This may have been a trial balloon, but it emboldened conservative critics who say Biden planned a second lockdown all along. As a Democratic candidate, he denied planning any lockdown but said he would listen to the scientists--of whom Osterholm is one.
Even Anthony Fauci is telling interviewers that the country has no appetite for another lockdown.
For now, though, Trump remains in charge. And the more he focuses on overturning the election results, the more he is vulnerable to attacks that he is ignoring the health crisis.