As some on the right seek a split from Donald Trump in the wake of poor midterm results, a fashionable new claim about him is making the rounds. Apparently, it turns out that the horrific extended lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, embraced and executed almost exclusively by Democrat governors, were actually all Donald Trump’s fault. The only problem with this bold new bon mat, featured this week in the Wall Street Journal, is that the assertion is completely absurd.
The theory is mainly rooted in a single statement made by Donald Trump on April 21st, 2020 just about one month after the shutdowns had begun. He criticized Georgia governor Brian Kemp’s plan to open up some of his state in contradiction of the CDC’s guidance. Trump said that he “disagreed” with the decision and that if it went badly he would step in. Let’s be clear, Trump was wrong, Kemp was right. We know that now.
We did not know at that time what the results would be, but in fact Trump never had to step in, whatever he meant by that, because both in Georgia and Florida it quickly became evident that the openings had been successful. One of the forgotten mantras of Covid was “just wait two weeks.” This was said by every chattering head on TV in reference to the Covid incubation period. As more businesses opened we were told that in 14 days there would be major spikes and hospitals would be strained to the breaking point. That didn’t happen. Not after two weeks, not after three weeks, not ever.
With almost no exceptions other than the attack on Kemp, which came as a surprise, Trump’s policy on lockdowns was clear and consistent. He would provide the states with materials they requested from ventilators to PPP, but he would not force governors to open or close their own states.
While it is true that he officially extended the initial 15 days to stop the spread guidelines for another month on March 29, 2020, those guidelines were exactly that, guidelines from experts who at the time few questioned, they were neither binding, nor particularly controversial. Aside from some prescient and often silenced voices on social media there was no hew and cry against Trump’s decision. In fact, the following day Ron DeSantis signed a stay at home order for Florida.
Not only was this hands off approach the correct position for a president of the United States to take, it was likely the only legal one. The idea that Trump could simply end the guidance and the lockdowns never would have happened is utterly ridiculous. After Kemp and DeSantis opened their states Trump didn’t bow to pressure for some national plan to bring them in line. And once the results were clear, or at least promising, he never pressured them to close anything.
Obviously Democrat governors such as New York’s Andrew Cuomo and California’s Gavin Newsom would have enacted their punishing long lasting lockdowns no matter what Trump said, and aside from questionable tactics like suspending federal funding, Trump had no way to force their hand.
Trump’s federalist approach produced what a federalist approach always does, laboratories of democracy in different states that can be judged against each other. And let’s not forget that throughout the summer and fall of 2020 Trump was constantly attacked for not taking Covid seriously enough, “why isn’t he wearing a mask,” was a constant refrain. He held indoor MAGA rallies to the horror of the smart set.
Trump’s approach to Covid in 2020 was obviously not perfect, how could it be? It was a cataclysmic and unprecedented event. But he was absolutely not the author of the extended lockdown policies of blue states, no matter how much saying so may enhance Republican electoral chances. Trump’s messaging, and that of his administration, especially early on was somewhat schizophrenic, he was trying to balance the need to be calm and measured with the very real deaths the country was experiencing.
Democrat governors own the lockdown nightmare. That is why Florida and Georgia are thriving while New York and California struggle. Trump’s restraint gave about half of the country, through their wise Republican governors’ actions, the opportunity to return to normal. It is difficult to imagine what he could possibly have done to achieve a better outcome. Fire Fauci? That only would have made power hungry Democrats dig in deeper.
The bottom line is that while there may be reasons to oppose Donald Trump’s candidacy in the 2024 GOP primary, the notion that he was the Godfather of Lockdowns just doesn’t stand up to the slightest bit of scrutiny.