Donald Dossier: Here Come the Trump Checks - OZY | A Modern Media Company
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WHY YOU SHOULD CARE

Because you're (probably) about to get some money, but can it buy reelection?

By Daniel Malloy

One week into what’s looking like a long, dark spring, everyone’s nerves are getting frayed amid the coronavirus pandemic. For most, it’s from being confined in close quarters with their families. For President Donald Trump, it’s being locked down with the White House press corps.

There was plenty of mutual disdain on display Friday in the press briefing room, particularly when Trump and NBC News’ Peter Alexander sparred over whether the president was giving Americans “false hope” by getting excited about a barely tested treatment for COVID-19, in contrast with more measured words from Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health. This led to Alexander asking: “What do you say to Americans watching right now who are scared?” To which Trump replied, “I say that you are a terrible reporter.”

Trump’s political power has long stemmed from his ability to discredit foes. Typically Democrats loom largest in that calculation, but right now the president needs them more than ever. It starts with governors in America’s most populous states who are on the front lines of fighting the pandemic, and Trump heaped praise on Democrats Gavin Newsom of California and Andrew Cuomo of New York for their aggressive lockdowns. He also talked up his strong working relationship with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who, along with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, would need to sign off on any package designed to rescue the economy — and Trump’s presidency.

It starts with Trump checks.

In addition to bailouts for the airlines and small businesses whose revenue is vanishing in this unprecedented crisis, Trump and Republicans are surprisingly leading the charge for direct cash payments to families, with Congress weighing a rescue of some $2 trillion. This political turnabout shows the gravity of the situation, even though it may not be enough.

It also represents the contours of what will have to be a radically different reelection message from the president. “Keep America Great” — as Politico pointed out — might have to go in the trash bin, if American greatness is mass unemployment and a negative-24 percent GDP in the second quarter, as Goldman Sachs is predicting.

Instead, with Trump playing up his “wartime president” ethos, we may see a version of President George W. Bush circa 2004: Keep the commander-in-chief in charge for the sake of safety. The weapons are different, as Trump weighs forcing private companies to make ventilators and sending most Americans a check. Instead of overhyped evidence of weapons of mass destruction, we’ve got the government’s bungling of getting coronavirus tests out to the public — and Trump’s early misinformation about the virus’ severity and how “it miraculously goes away.”

So much of all this hangs on where the economy is in seven months, and all of the recent obituaries for the Trump presidency bring to mind the “now he’s doomed” coverage we’ve seen periodically since Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017.

For a president who self-quarantines from all blame, that means picking fights with just about anyone else. He’s pointing the finger at China by calling it the “Chinese virus” — and thus launching a 12-round battle in the press about whether that’s racist. And he’s teeing off on any press coverage questioning the alacrity of his response, leading to another round of questions in the press briefing asking Trump and his cohorts about how improper it was for Trump to attack the press, the kind of navel gazing that Americans simply adore.

An irked president sought safety in the hostile room and pointed to a reporter in the back row. Up popped Sean Spicer, the man who once was pummeled daily in that very podium as press secretary, now hosting a show on the conservative outlet Newsmax. The biggest surprise of all? Spicer asked a solid, newsworthy question about senators such as North Carolina Republican Richard Burr dumping stock before the market plunge. At the time, senators were getting briefed in private on the calamity to come and Trump was still spinning a rosy public outlook. Their stock trades now are getting new scrutiny.

The president dodged the question. Like plenty of Americans with cabin fever these days, there is no escape.

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