Why coronavirus will not cost Trump reelection: Goodwin

Last fall, as the House impeachment wave was building, I asked a gathering of 10 friends what they thought of President Trump’s prospects. Only six were Trump voters in 2016, but the group was unanimous on two points: The president would not be convicted by the Senate and would be re-elected in 2020.

Because the world has been turned upside down since then, I wanted an update from the same group. All successful New Yorkers, they are active in business, philanthropy and politically astute.

Like everyone else, they recoil at the deaths engulfing the nation and our city, and are horrified by the economic destruction being imposed in a bid to save lives. They worry about their own health, their families, friends and neighbors.

Although they hardly represent a scientific sampling, their views on the president, his handling of the epidemic and the fall election are not markedly different from public polls. In general, the group’s opinion of Trump’s leadership is good news for the president.

He’s picked up at least one new voter — a woman who says Trump has been a much better president than she expected. So far, he hasn’t lost any supporters, though one unhappy backer says he is open to voting for Joe Biden, depending on Biden’s choice of a running mate.

Although several in the group express uncertainty about whether Trump will win a second term because of the coronavirus and economic impact, not a single one is convinced the president will lose, largely because they all see Biden as weak and in obvious decline. Even those who reflexively back Democrats doubt that Biden can win.

Yet when I asked all 10 to grade Trump’s performance, there was a wide range of assessments and even his supporters were not always happy. Only three give him an “A,” with two citing his success in getting the private sector involved in producing equipment for front-line health workers while also spurring the government bureaucracy to speed its approvals and trim regulations.

More typical was the response from one avid female supporter: “I approve of what he gets accomplished and I disapprove of what he says and how!” She gives him a “B” on substance and a “D” on conduct, adding that “arrogance is never appealing.”

Similarly, a man who backed Trump in 2016 gives him an “85 percent on substance, barely a passing grade on the rest of it,” meaning the Twitter feuds and atmospherics surrounding his daily briefings. “Trump should shut up and let his team do more of the talking,” he said.

Another strong supporter gives Trump a “B” on overall performance, calling him a “mercurial polarizer” but adding that “I don’t believe voters will blame him for the ­disease.”

The man open to switching to Biden gives Trump a “D” on everything. He cites the president’s early false assurances that “we have the virus under control” and the exhausting controversies over whether Dr. Anthony Fauci would be fired.

My view is that the president, like virtually everyone else in Washington, including Democrats, the media and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was slow off the mark and initially reluctant to see the virus as a major threat. But once Trump crossed that threshold, he became, as he put it, a “wartime president” and has performed very well at marshaling supplies, working cooperatively with private firms and states facing the biggest outbreaks and keeping the public informed.

Although his rhetoric can be absolutist, Trump has been flexible when it was needed and his deference to medical and health professionals is refreshingly out of character.

So I would give Trump an “A” — except for the theatrics of the daily briefings. They are far too long, some lasting two hours, and too much time is wasted arguing with the media.

While it’s obvious much of the White House press corps, led by the disgraceful Jim Acosta of CNN, personally hate Trump and are looking for a fight, the president errs by giving them one on a nearly daily basis.

He seems not to realize the noisy squabbles drown out his attempt to assure the public that the government is making progress. He is also too quick to throw down with Democrats, undermining his calls for national unity and sacrifice. An occasional turn of the other cheek would set an example for the political class and the media that the crisis requires all of us to change our habits.

Because I want a tighter focus, more light and less heat, my grade drops to a “B.” Good first steps would be limiting the number of media questions and breaking up the Washington monopoly by letting regional news outlets participate.

As for the campaign, one of the three people giving Trump an “A” on the epidemic makes a strong case for his reelection based on how the event has clarified many divisive issues — to the president’s advantage.

“He’s been proven right about so many things,” my friend says. “Stopping illegal immigration is no longer debatable. His trade dispute with China makes even more sense because of how the Communist Party deceived the world. The need to cut regulations is more obvious and putting America First is no longer a question.”

He also believes Democrats will be on defense because the shutdowns in New York, Illinois and California are going to wreck their economies and lead to tax hikes in what already are the highest-taxed states. He envisions more “Tea Party”-like protests of the kind taking place in Michigan against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s erratic shutdown rules.

Still, he has a warning for Trump. “There’s only one thing out there, and if he gives them the ammunition, shame on him. If he overpromises on the economy coming back quickly and it doesn’t, he’ll pay the price in November.”

Tip of Fedora to FDR

Reader Alan Sperber, writing on April 12, offers a history lesson. “Your column comparing criticism during these times and World War II made me reflect on today being the 75th anniversary of the death of FDR and the 65th anniversary of the announcement of the Salk polio vaccine. The announcement was made exactly 10 years after FDR’s passing in tribute to him, as he was the founder of the March of Dimes which helped fund the research to defeat polio, and because he heroically battled the disease himself. I wonder how many people know that’s why he is on our 10-cent coin.”

Empire straits

The lavish praise for Gov. Andrew Cuomo is lost on reader Bill Keogh, who wants to know: “How come, with a third-term governor in a state that includes the Number 1 terrorist target, New York was not prepared? How does the state with highest per-capita taxes not have the best emergency preparation?”

Rising safety

“Are Face Masks the New Condoms?” asked The New York Times Saturday. At least five other websites had almost identical headlines in recent days.

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