How The GOP Plans To Use China To Bolster Their Reelection Chances
At a recent White House press conference, CBS reporter Weijia Jiang asked Donald Trump why he keeps claiming that the US is handling the coronavirus pandemic better than any other country in the world. She made the point that it’s not a contest, and that Americans are losing their lives every day and the cases keep rising.
Without missing a beat, he retorted to the Asian-American reporter, “I’ll tell you what. Don’t ask me that question. Ask China.” Moments later he abruptly ended the presser and stalked off.
Of course, China is not blameless by any means given their initial secrecy and downplaying of the severity of coronavirus in Wuhan, late 2019 and early January 2020. But that does not excuse Trump’s failures in the months that followed.
Anybody who has been following the administration’s disastrous mishandling of the pandemic might chalk this up to just another attempt to deflect responsibility. After all, this is the president who ignored the early January warnings of his own intelligence community, spent February and March golfing and holding rallies while claiming that fears of coronavirus were a Democrat hoax, argued that the virus will disappear “like magic” in the spring, stated categorically that he accepts no responsibility whatsoever for the now over 85,000 deaths or the lack of PPE and testing, etc. This is not to mention his disbanding of the Pandemic Response Team President Obama had formed in response to the Ebola scare, and burying that team’s Pandemic Playbook.
Trump usually answers any criticisms of his approach with pointing out that he stopped flights coming in from China when it all started. Well, yes, but it turns out Americans were still allowed in and by then it was already too late—hundreds of thousands had already entered the US since the coronavirus outbreak began. And even though the first hot spots were on the West Coast, the major influx of infected persons came into the US through New York City, from Europe. While the Trump Administration was focusing on heading off travelers from China, travelers from Europe were pouring into the country without even being questioned about where they had been and their exposure. So even that “success” was pretty much a failure.
Nevertheless, Trump’s narrative has been that he had successfully averted disaster by semi-closing our borders to China. And early on he regularly praised the Chinese government, especially President Xi, for how well they had handled it. He even sent PPE to China. Now, all of a sudden, everywhere you look, the Chinese government is being offered up as a scapegoat.
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Well, in the interim, as death toll and unemployment numbers skyrocket, Mr. Trump and his GOP colleagues are finding themselves between a very big rock and a very hard place, electorally speaking. An epic failure of this nature is not a good look, and they are losing ground not only with respect to swing states Trump will need in order to win the electoral college if the vote is close, but also Senate seats. In short, they are worried about a landslide loss, in which purple states turn soundly blue, huge swathes of the electorate who lean towards Trump decide nuh-uh, and Democrats expand their numbers in the House and take the Senate.
And that means not only will the balance of party power shift radically, a bunch of folks are going to find themselves not only out of a job, but no longer protected from prosecution. Not the least of whom is Donald Trump himself.
Republicans are past masters at talking points. If there’s one thing they do well, it’s talking points. It’s making sure that every single operative, every single candidate, every single incumbent, and every single pundit all the way down the electoral food chain give the exact same answers to certain hot-button questions. You may have noticed this. How impossible it is to move them off the talking points, even when the question being asked has literally nothing whatever to do with the answers they give.
And now—thanks primarily to a 57-page memo the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) distributed to Republican campaigns in April—the talking points are all about taking the heat off Donald Trump’s egregious failures by…you guessed it, blaming China. First reported in Politico in late April, the memo’s key instruction is “…don’t defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban—attack China.” It suggests not pretending that the Administration didn’t botch it, but to make vague references to getting a late start, especially if they can point fingers at “…elected officials, the World Health Organization, and the CDC.” Those are sub-scapegoats, and attention to them should be fleeting. Any such acknowledgments of responsibility should be quickly followed by detailed blame for China.
The memo—crafted not by the NRSC but by a DC-area GOP strategist—suggests three broad categories for attacking China. Blame China for the original outbreak and contend that there was a coverup (this coverup narrative can incorporate the current debunked but popular conspiracy theory that the novel coronavirus was created in a Chinese lab rather than transposing from bats to humans organically). Contend that Democrats are “soft on China.” And argue that GOP candidates will push for sanctions against China as punishment for its role.
So going forward, keep your ears open. When you hear this rhetoric, put a little checkmark on a list in your head of GOP strategies to divert attention from Trump’s failures by creating a scapegoat. And don’t be fooled. They’re desperate. And when Donald Trump pitches a hissy fit at a presser, shouts “Don’t blame me! Blame China!” and walks off-stage? That’s GOP talking points in action.