As coronavirus upends lives across the country, we look to elected officials for leadership, because right now collective, coordinated action—orchestrated by elected leaders—is our greatest hope for minimizing the most dire consequences of the pandemic. It’s a time when we are all called upon to sacrifice normalcy for the greater good, even as we recognize that some must sacrifice more than others, and the hardships fall unevenly along familiar lines of racial and economic inequality. In such a painful environment, we need elected officials to make decisions we can trust.
President Trump has failed us, and not for the first time.
His failures stand out more starkly in the harsh light of this acute crisis, but they follow a pattern. Those of us who’ve closely monitored his responses to both coronavirus and other, lower-simmering crises find the similarities striking.
In both the current pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis the Trump administration has ignored the advice of experts, overruled the direction of scientists, and undermined the institutions we rely on to protect us, putting people all across our country and the globe at risk. This recurring incompetence matters to voters—come November, it could (and should) cost Trump his job.
The similarities between the administration’s response to coronavirus and the climate crisis are manifold. Trump’s habit of dismissing experts’ concerns, especially regarding the severity of crises, is disturbing and dangerous. As the coronavirus pandemic began to unfold in January, public health experts warned that we needed to act quickly and improve our ability to test for the virus. Trump’s response: “We have it very well under control”; “It’s very mild”; “It will go away”; the virus is Democrats’ “new hoax.”
Rewind to 2016, when not only scientists, but NASA and our military leaders had all long agreed that climate change was real and posed a serious threat to our country. Yet, despite this overwhelming consensus, Trump repeatedly called climate change a hoax too. In fact, he once made outlandish claims that it was a Chinese hoax. Sound familiar?
As each of these crises has become too dire to ignore, Trump has attempted to revise his inadequate initial response. Trump now falsely claims that he felt coronavirus “was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic,” and, he’s also recently begun to insist that climate change is “a very serious subject,” too. This president has a worrying history of minimizing severe threats to the public until cable-news coverage of the consequences reaches saturation levels, at which point he denies his own culpability, lies about his past statements, and blames others—often in xenophobic and sexist terms—for what’s happened on his watch.
It’s no wonder that recent research from Global Strategy Group and Navigator Research reveals that 61 percent of voters believe that Trump was unprepared for the coronavirus crisis. Similarly, a new poll that GSG conducted for the League of Conservation Voters and CAP Action Fund among persuadable presidential voters finds Trump’s job approval on climate change is a dismal 18 percent. These surveys reveal that the public considers Trump’s “hoax” comments, and his dismissal of respected experts, to be among the most alarming aspects of his responses to both crises. Our joint research also showed that persuadable voters find messages linking Trump’s record on climate change and coronavirus to be extremely convincing. Specifically, 75 percent of persuadable voters found a message centered on the president’s dismissal of respected leaders like the military and the CDC on both climate and coronavirus to be a convincing reason to vote against Trump.
Undermining the institutions and experts that safeguard our communities is a common thread in Trump’s failed responses to crises. Trump eliminated the U.S. pandemic response team and tried to shut down 39 of 49 pandemic centers around the world, leaving our country vulnerable to serious public health outbreaks. Similarly, Trump spent the first years of his administration rolling back close to 100 environmental safeguards and weakening federal agencies like EPA, leaving our communities more vulnerable to everything from air pollution to water contamination to extreme weather fueled by climate change.
Unfortunately, for the time being, we are stuck with a president who has habitually failed to provide trustworthy leadership, especially in response to crises. However, our democratic process offers our country an off-ramp in November. Trump’s failures to respond to these two crises demonstrate how deeply unfit he is to lead this country. Voters are receptive to this fact, and they are going to hear about it.
Andrew Baumann is senior vice president, Research at Global Strategy Group. Pete Maysmith is senior vice president, Campaigns at LCV Victory Fund.