Some of Donald Trump’s most sycophantic defenders are frustrated that he is not lifting social-distancing guidelines with more alacrity. “Until we feel it’s safe, we’re going to be extending” those guidelines, Trump said at yesterday’s press briefing. But of course Trump has been on both sides of this issue. Last Friday he encouraged protests in Minnesota, Michigan, and Virginia, three (2020 battleground) states run by Democratic governors who have insisted on extending restrictions in their states. On Monday Trump reportedly told Georgia governor Brian Kemp that he approved of Kemp’s plan to allow certain businesses to reopen. On Tuesday he publicly criticized the plan to no avail. And he has obviously flip-flopped since this crisis began, from his early insistence that the virus was nothing to worry about to his later insistence that he knew all along it would be a catastrophe.
Is there a strategy behind this inconstancy? Taking both sides of the reopening issue could be consistent with Trump’s tendency to ruthlessly pursue his political self-interest. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Trump had “asked White House aides for economic response plans that would allow him to take credit for successes while offering enough flexibility to assign fault for any failures to others.” Then again, it could also be consistent with his volatile nature. But whether the product of intention or impulse, his flip-flopping can’t be good for public health, and it may also backfire politically — if, as polls suggest, it undermines public trust in the president, or if, as the Kemp saga suggests, it undercuts the reasonable guidelines for states that the administration released last week.
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