Peter Wehner argues in The Atlantic (paywall, some free articles) that The Trump Presidency Is Over.
It took until the second half of Trump’s first term, but the crisis has arrived in the form of the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s hard to name a president who has been as overwhelmed by a crisis as the coronavirus has overwhelmed Donald Trump.
It was always clear that Trump has no idea how government works (he thinks it’s like his real estate business), no idea even how to behave like an adult, and certainly no idea how to deal with the unexpected. But dealing with the unexpected is exactly the job which only the president can do, and is why We the People have given so many (perhaps in some cases too many) tools to the executive. Tools like the National Security Council’s pandemic team, for example, which would have been our front line leader against COVID-19 — except that Trump disbanded it in 2018. (Asked about that at today’s presser, Trump gave a simple answer that summed up his entire presidency, indeed his entire approach to life: “I don’t know anything about it.” Sen. Brown immediately posted a letter he had written to Trump back in 2018, reminding him that he did know all about it.)
More from Wehner:
The president reportedly ignored early warnings of the severity of the virus and grew angry at a CDC official who in February warned that an outbreak was inevitable. The Trump administration dismantled the National Security Council’s global-health office, whose purpose was to address global pandemics; we’re now paying the price for that. “We worked very well with that office,” Fauci told Congress. “It would be nice if the office was still there.” We may face a shortage of ventilators and medical supplies, and hospitals may soon be overwhelmed, certainly if the number of coronavirus cases increases at a rate anything like that in countries such as Italy. (This would cause not only needless coronavirus-related deaths, but deaths from those suffering from other ailments who won’t have ready access to hospital care.)
Yet in some respects, the avalanche of false information from the president has been most alarming of all. It’s been one rock slide after another, the likes of which we have never seen. Day after day after day he brazenly denied reality, in an effort to blunt the economic and political harm he faced. But Trump is in the process of discovering that he can’t spin or tweet his way out of a pandemic. There is no one who can do to the coronavirus what Attorney General William Barr did to the Mueller report: lie about it and get away with it.
And on and on. We’ve all been reporting and commenting on all of Trump’s incompetent handling of the first major crisis not of his own making* but Wehner lays it all out in sharp points as well as anyone.
*There was Hurricane Maria’s wipeout of Puerto Rico, which Trump bungled badly, but he managed to distract most mainland Americans from making too much of it.
So. . .
Taken together, this is a massive failure in leadership that stems from a massive defect in character. Trump is such a habitual liar that he is incapable of being honest, even when being honest would serve his interests. He is so impulsive, shortsighted, and undisciplined that he is unable to plan or even think beyond the moment.
Unlike Puerto Rico, North Korea, Iran, NATO, the tariffs, even the border wall and the caging of children, the neo-Nazi dog whistles and the chintzy corruption, the COVID-19 crisis is one that the United States cannot and will not close its eyes to and shrug off, as this affects all of us. And the longer it goes on, the clearer it becomes that not only does Trump have no idea what to do, he doesn’t want to have an idea — it would intrude on his fantasy.
The nation is recognizing this, treating him as a bystander “as school superintendents, sports commissioners, college presidents, governors and business owners across the country take it upon themselves to shut down much of American life without clear guidance from the president,” in the words of Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times.
Donald Trump is shrinking before our eyes.
Thus, Wehner concludes, the Trump presidency is over.
Yes, I know, we’ve said this any number of times before. But always before, he was able to convince his base it wasn’t his fault, and to wear down the rest of us with overwhelming bullshit until we just said “OK, whatever, just shut up already.” This time is different. This time too many of his base, and too many of the country, are going to be burying his mistakes in the next months.
Some of his base won’t desert him even if he injects them with the virus on Fifth Avenue. But those outside his core, those who thought he was going to look out for them, those who expected their lives to get better under him, they’re going to be looking at him with gravedigger eyes now.
Even Putin won’t be able to save him from this one.