Jonathan Chait: the Trump Bump is temporary

March 29, 2020 • 12:45 pm

Lately, Trump’s behavior relative to the pandemic has not only not been Presidential, but positively puerile. He’s trying to deny New York the ventilators it needs, he’s dissing CEOs, and—what really irks me—he’s threatening to punish states whose governors don’t toady to him. What kind of leadership is that? And yet we know that his approval rating has risen to about 50%—the highest since he’s been elected.

That “bump” depressed me, making me worry that he’ll be reelected—and shame on our country if, after four years of his insanity, they allow it to continue—but Jon Chait at New York Magazine feels otherwise. The title of his piece says it all, but click the screenshot to read.


Chait thinks the bump is temporary because all leaders get a bounce when there’s a national crisis. Further, Trump’s Bump is much smaller than those enjoyed by other leaders, including Boorish Johnson, Emmanuel Macron, and the Italian government. Chait puts an optimistic spin (for us Democrats) on it:

Against a backdrop where every leader is enjoying soaring, almost rapturous levels of public approval, Trump’s step up to almost 50 percent approval should be seen not as good news, but as a devastating political indictment of his leadership style. It’s like a Major League Baseball player competing against high schoolers and hitting 0.280.

What’s as bad as Trump trying to force governors to kowtow to him is his implicit promise to end social distancing and restart businesses before any rational person thinks the pandemic is waning, as well as scaling back protective measures sooner in states that support him and have “incredible governors” and “incredible senators”:

It may be true that high-density cities have suffered much faster outbreaks. It is not true, as Trump implies, that the lagging pace of the virus in red states is caused by superior Republican governance. Red states are not identifying patients with coronavirus and putting them in quarantine. They are experiencing the same unchecked community spread as blue states, and while the virus has taken hold more slowly, they are catching up rapidly. As Nate Silver points out, “Nine of the 10 states that have seen the most rapid increase in coronavirus from Monday to Thursday are states that voted for Trump in 2016.”

Trump’s plan to relax social distancing in the states with the lowest levels of reported outbreak — without yet having widespread, fast-working tests in place — is a recipe to extend the outbreak and delay the recovery he craves.

He may well be persuaded to abandon his plans to do so. (Dr. Anthony Fauci is certainly working to dissuade him.) But that leaves open the question of just what Trump will gain by repeatedly promising the country that social distancing will end soon, and the recovery will be rapid. Rather than prepare the country for a long, painful road to return to normal, he has ramped up expectations to a level even a highly competent president would have trouble meeting.

And a bit more optimism:

Trump has conspicuously failed even to pantomime what that kind of leadership looks like. Mostly he talks about other things to blame: China, the Obama administration, various Democratic governors, General Motors, and the supposed (and clearly untrue) fact that “nobody saw this coming.” He said on camera, “I don’t take responsibility at all,” a line that will appear in almost every Democratic ad, because it violates Americans’ most fundamental requirements of their leaders.

Maybe I’ll win my $100 bet (that he won’t be reelected) after all. Truly, I was appalled when Trump was elected, but to see people still praising him when, during a very serious crisis, he’s acting like an out-of-control maniac, makes me very pessimistic for the future of this country. A house divided against itself cannot stand. 

And here’s a very good ad for Joe Biden about Trump’s pandemic problem (h/t Heather Hastie):

h/t: Simon

83 thoughts on “Jonathan Chait: the Trump Bump is temporary

  1. All of what Chait said here is reasonable. Still, Trump is really, really good at blaming others. There are so many ways he could spin this story to his advantage:

    1. He has claimed that it is the job of governors, local governments, hospitals to deal with things in their jurisdictions. Will many regular citizens believe this and blame them instead of Trump?

    2. He continues to blame China and other countries for not controlling the virus and letting it spread to the US. This paints the US as a victim which, of course, it is. The Right already hates immigration and the Left hates globalization, both of which feed into his narrative. And, of course, the virus is natural so he can always fall back on the US as just the victim of a natural disaster. How unfair it would be to punish his administration for something it can’t control!

    3. Democrats have made the pandemic worse than it would otherwise have been by stoking fears. When presenting this trope, he’ll conveniently ignore whether the fears were justified and focus only on the effects. He will claim that the Dems have prevented the economy recovering: “Our economy would be back to normal by now but for the Dem’s constant message of doom and gloom. When the country should have been rallying around the flag and my leadership, they were un-American in failing to support the people and my glorious efforts to combat this Chinese threat.”

    This is without getting into how he portrays the media coverage of the virus as false and unfair to him, or how he intends to delay the election and his leaving office because of the crisis. (I can’t see any way he’s not going to do this.)

    1. I kind of think a lot of people are going to be shocked by the economy regardless of how long the pandemic goes on. This Trump economy was already in bad shape and week in many ways. The extremely low interest rates and very high debt are part of it. The so-called bounce back will be a long time coming.

    2. Well stated, Paul.
      There are so many ways for him to spin this. If we get through this fairly unscathed he is going to trumpet that he guided us through the worst thing that ever happened to our country and won. “I saved many lives”.

      Then there’s the stimulus check with his name on it. “No President has ever done this before. I wrote a check to every American to help them get through this hard time”.

      The sad irony is that the better the outcome of this COVID scenario the better it is for him. And if it gets worse then it’s someone else’s fault.


  2. So many of we Europeans have a great love of the United States, its people and its culture, and of the central role the USA had seventy years ago in saving the world for democracy, that it makes it difficult to comment upon the man-child who is your president.
    We have a similar chump running the UK, and they share all the problems associated with low-intelligence: the need to bluff all the time: a failure to recognise social processes and seeing the world as a series of still photographs. But whereas dim Boris has a sense of humour to slide away from his bad decisions, your president can be quite nasty.
    I am so hoping that the virus weakens; for if not, the USA will be severely weakened by the terrible death toll. It is a very long shot but the inequalities may somehow be addressed when the corporations and financial services are brought down.

      1. Yes and I worry about civil unrest as a result. It’s worrying when we in Canada have been in isolation for weeks with everything shut down and we see all this going on at our southern border. There was an article I read about a Canadian traveling back to Canada from Florida by car. The people in Florida thought he was a chump to obey his government’s request for Canadians to return home but as he got more North he saw how the northern states took it more seriously. There are truly two Americas.

    1. Mr Boris is intelligent and has a grasp of reality, he knows better and is evil.
      Mr Trump is not the sharpest knife in the drawer and has no idea about reality. He is not really evil, just a a “useful idiot” as the former KGB would say..

      1. “Mr Trump is … not really evil.”

        What’s your definition of evil? He’s not possessed by the Devil if that’s what you mean. What would it take for you to call him evil? What would he have to do?

        1. The same way half his ‘lies’ are not lies -deliberately telling something you know not to be true- he’s just bullshitting around. I mean ‘airfields during the revolution’ does not really qualify as a lie in my books.
          I think many/some of his intentions are not really bad, he’s just a narcissistic ignoramus that hasn’t a clue, criminal incapacity, the guy is not ‘compos mentis‘.

          1. You are extraordinarily generous to Trump. His intentions are continuously if not exclusively based on self-interest. Whatever, difficulty or failure his overriding aim is to deflect blame onto someone else. Whatever achievement his concern it to ensure that the glory shines on him. He is vindictive, mendacious, unscrupulous (the Senate may have let him get away with his abuse of power in trying to use the powers of the Presidency to dig dirt on his political rival but the whole World saw his crass efforts to bully the Ukraine into serving his personal political interest), ludicrously thin-skinned, anti-democratic (see his numerous efforts to prevent/obstruct any kind of critical scrutiny of his Presidency by the media) and in every sense utterly demeaning of the dignity of the office that has been bestowed upon him.
            If you are correct that some of his intentions are not bad then I would say that every terrible leader probably occasionally does something right but it is the overall balance that counts and in Trump’s case the bad heavily outweighs the good.

        1. As a Brit, I have to say that having a self-serving liar who can spout Latin in charge isn’t much of an improvement.

              1. “E pluribus unum – it means ‘many out of one’ – not many people know that. But people tell me I have a natural ability with the words. Tremendous words – I know so many of them. I wrote a whole book of words. Pages and pages of words. A best seller. Terrific book. Lots of words. I had an uncle that taught at MIT. He knew all the words. Great guy. Tremendous guy.”

              2. Yes, unfortunately that good logo seems lost in time to the odious “In God We Trust”.

              3. he,he 🙂
                “One out of many” = “many out of one” not many people know that…
                Good one!

          1. As another Brit, who has never voted for Boris or his party and never would, I have to say that he is not dim, evil or a sociopath. He sailed into the Prime Ministership eight months ago, many would say undeservedly, and he is now saddled with the biggest crisis we have faced for years. We have to hope he and his team are capable of rising to it; and, reluctant as I am to admit it, we have to do what we can to support them.

            1. A fellow Brit I agree absolutely. Certainly no fool my hope is Boris Johnson will grow into the job as others have before.

  3. Everything in this country politics wise depends on how you use the media and the internet. Actual action or lack thereof means little. The people are herd animals and Trump is the con man. I would hope Chait knows what he is talking about but would not be putting lots of money on it. Trump started off calling this thing a hoax and later said he knew it was a pandemic all along. His cult is stupid enough to think that makes perfect sense. If the campaign actually ever gets going the democrats should have tons of ads on Trump to make the points. In a normal world they wouldn’t need to do anything. Meanwhile his Supreme Court is doing everything possible to delay outcomes on his past until it will be too late.

    1. They are often even a step behind. As Trump changed his tune from “hoax” to “knew it all along” his supporters were still repeating the “hoax” lie.

        1. If tRump is such a “stable genius” how come he didn’t implement a bolting the door(s) option sooner?

  4. Not exactly a silver lining, of course, but tRump’s base is likely to suffer more from the pandemic than the rest of us. Not that the virus cares about anyone’s politics, but these who pretend that this isn’t a problem and those who think Jesus will protect them are will necessarily get sick more often. Maybe this will wake them up. Then again, there are many other things that I thought might wake them up and I’ve now got a history of being wrong on this subject.

    1. Nah. Nothing will wake them up. They are impervious to reality. They simply will refuse to believe it’s true. Once, during the Cold War, my parents had a friend who had a relative over in Canada from the Ukraine. I don’t know how the person travelled here during the Cold War. Perhaps it was at the end when travel was opened up. He took this relative to a grocery store and this relative said it wasn’t real. All the stores with all this food were just for tourists and they didn’t really exist. So, I see this person as similar to these Trump supporters; you can make up whatever you want especially when you’ve been deceived and brain washed for a long time.

      1. You are quite right that the Trump cult (to a large extent one and the same as the religious) is impervious to reality. Although it is the base of the Republican Party, it is not large enough to win the presidential election by itself, especially taking into the consideration the importance of the swing states. When the reality of the nature of the pandemic sinks into minds of those who voted for Trump for non-cultish reasons, many of them may swing to the Democrats. At least, I hope so.

    1. But even the conservative National Review said it was a temporary high, and that DTs should probably watch what he says because it’s hurting him.

  5. Yes, the sycophants like to point to the fact he decreed travel restrictions early, in late January. I must admit I was mistaken too. I thought it was a good idea, but that turned out to be wrong. Even travel bans only earn a few hours, or days at best. These days can be precious if combined with other measures, such as testing on a massive scale and early lockdown. But nothing like that happened. Mr Trump spent the better part of six weeks downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic.
    I hope the surge in his ratings is indeed due to the ‘rallying to the flag’ in times of trouble, surges which generally subside quickly.
    But with Mr Trump one never knows.

  6. I think people’s inability to admit their wrong runs pretty deep. That said, if someone they know and love dies after they have dismissed the threat, I believe it can have a ripple effect.

    1. And even then they will simply say it happened like that all over the world and couldn’t be stopped. They will refuse to admit their government could have saved them.

    2. Before a person can accept they were wrong they must realize they were wrong. There are a lot of people who just can’t do that, especially if their mistake killed or harmed someone they care about.
      It’s a lot more palatable to blame someone else, especially if there are ‘leaders’ handing them a story that absolves them.

      I see Trump and Republicans pulling out all the stops to convince their supporters it was someone else’s fault. Some will realize they were wrong, that means Trump and Republicans will wade even deeper into the cesspool.

      I think it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better and not just Covid-19.

  7. Mr. Chait’s analysis is reasonable and I think it is the most probable. The unknowns are immense, though. Seven months in American politics is a lifetime.

        1. Yes. I think Trump is pretty much in an invincible position. Biden is already out of the picture, and the only media coverage Democrats get at the moment looks like griping, in contrast to Trump’s “positive” message.

      1. I think the inability to hold his Nuremberg-style rallies is taking a psychological toll on Trump. He feeds off his crowd’s adoration and emotion; it seems the only part of being president that brings him joy unalloyed.

        And his only real skill as a public speaker lies in an ability to read the mood of the hoi polloi and feed it red meat.

        1. Trump is getting a lot of leverage out of his press conferences. The White House is angry that networks are no longer covering them completely. But they still get the ratings. Just today Trump was bragging that his press conferences had “roughly the viewership of the season finale of ‘The Bachelor.’” (I shit you not).

          But this won’t last long. People are getting tired of these conferences and the ratings will go down.

          1. True, but the daily pressers don’t provide Trump the catharsis he seems to need and thrive upon.

            Instead, he has to answer (or avoid answering, as the case tends to be) pointed questions from an increasingly aggressive press, while at least one expert capable of contradicting him usually shares the stage.

  8. The idea that tRump’s bump (hey, I like that – tRump’s bump. Tee Hee) is much smaller than it should be compared to other western leaders, is very reassuring. I say, Biden by a landslide!

  9. One thing I am worried about right now is tRump using this pandemic as an excuse to seize dictatorial powers to cope the national emergency. I liked it better when he and his followers were telling everyone it wasn’t a problem.

    1. This allegation of sexual assault goes back to 1993 and was made by one woman. At this time, it is impossible to tell how credible it is. Biden denies it. If other women come forward making similar charges then Biden could be in trouble. There would be a movement within the Democratic Party to dump Biden. This would create utter chaos. If Biden should remain the nominee, I am not sure that the Republicans would use them against him because they would revive the now moribund charges against Trump. All in all, credible allegations against Biden will throw but another wrench in the already bizarre election year, with its impact not currently known.

      1. Coupled with the hair nuzzling event it makes me nervous, although to me Biden is more like that slightly creepy old uncle every family has rather than someone who would force himself on a woman.

        1. I’d vote for a damaged, rust covered, brown, fire hydrant, rather than the orange one staining the Oval Office right now.

    2. Isn’t the problem usually, in such cases, deciding who and what is credible? All women are, claim the woke, who also tend to be Democrats. So there may be a bit of a dilemma here. Is Biden to be judged by the oft used standard of ‘An accusation is enough’? Or is more required here? If so, why?

      Needless to say, I think that standard sucks.

      Further, muddying the plot, the latest accusation of digital rape (in 1993) was made on the podcast of Katie Halpern, who is said to be a Bernie supporter.

      Is this the start of the Bros’ fightback? I have no idea. But such stuff is beginning to appear out there.

        1. Only in that, if you’re a reality-tv “star, they let you do it” (according to a certain very credible, very stable genius anyhow).

  10. Dr. Fauci predicts millions of infections and the death toll could be 100,000 or more. When these numbers sink into the American public along with the accompanying economic and psychological devastation, Trump’s popularity should sink. The “bump” will be gone long before Election Day. Still, we need to be vigilant against any attempt by Trump to corrupt or cancel the election. If Biden takes office amidst the ruins, he will face the greatest challenge since FDR took office in 1933. Unfortunately, he is no FDR. Due to his age and health, his selection for vice-president, certainly a woman, is critically important.

    1. Dubya didn’t exactly leave Barack a bed of roses either — the biggest economic meltdown since the Great Depression and two interminable wars without victory (or even a sense of what “victory” might entail) in sight.

      1. A polio-like illness. It wasn’t exactly a secret, but he kept it out of the public eye, willing himself to stand and walk, with the aid of braces beneath his trousers and a cane, to the lectern when speaking in public. He was never seen publicly in his wheelchair. Much easier to accomplish in the days before television, when his primary modes of communication with the American people were weekly radio addresses and interviews with (often sympathetic) print reporters.

        And, no, it didn’t seem to affect his mental faculties (until, perhaps, near the end. It’s a trope among rightwingers, for example, that FDR wasn’t at the top of his game at the February 1945 Yalta conference, and gave away too much to Stalin).

        Then again, not everyone thought Roosevelt brilliant to start with. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, for example, once remarked that Roosevelt had “a second-class intellect, but a first-class temperament.”

  11. This is just a tiny smattering of the BS Trump puts out every day. If a leader responded to a crisis this way in any rational country no one would wait for an election. He would have been booted out by now.

    Jan. 22: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

    Feb 02: “We pretty much shut it down, coming from China.”

    Feb 12: “If we test more people then the numbers will go up.”

    Feb. 24: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. ”

    Feb. 26: “So we’re at the low level. As they get better, we take them off the list, so that we’re going to be pretty soon at only five people.”

    Mar 04: “We’re talking about very small numbers in the United States.”

    Mar 13: “No, I don’t take responsibility at all.”

    Mar 17: “This is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

    1. I know it’s just one ad, but I would loved to have seen added one of his firsts: the sarcastic “You probably aren’t going to die.”

      1. Mr Trump should thank them, they give wider publicity to his words for free! /s
        There is this hullabaloo about whether Mr Trump called the virus a hoax, or the alarm about it’s seriousness. It is a distinction without a difference, IMMO.

  12. They say a week is a long time in politics—from now to November is almost eternity. Who knows what will happen? I like Chait and think he’s a reasonable pundit. But the public mood is difficult to gauge and not always reasonable.

  13. According to this report, from just under a year ago, there were 57,000 deaths from flu in the US last winter:

    Even if the Covid-19 toll does approach 100k, one could easily imagine Mr Trump saying ‘No big deal! This is normal! And it’s down to me that it’s so normal! And the Democrats in New York and California, well they just panicked. Losers!’

    And if the pandemic does fizzle out before it affects Red states too much, as I have read it might, there could be plenty of people who believe him.

      1. And yes, you raise a serious issue about the usual numbers of excess flu-related deaths and their interpretation / representation.

      1. Well he literally speaks the truth there: he’s “done one hell of a job”. Who said he only lies?

    1. I have this suspicion that we will soon hear no more about Mr Obama’s 14.000 deaths during the H1N1 Swine flu.

  14. This just in:

    President Trump had initially announced 15-day social distancing guidelines and then suggested the recommendations could be relaxed. But Trump said the guidance will now be extended. 30 days.

    1. That’s like the social media people fishing for followers with their “let’s stay connected”. Ain’t no “connected”.

    2. How is it dishonest to say ‘text Joe’?

      You may or may not agree with the ad’s message that Trump is doing a very poor job of managing the crisis and that Biden would be better but where is the deceit in asking campaign supporters to text the campaign?

    1. “Politics ain’t beanbag,” as Finley Peter Dunne’s Mr. Dooley put it.

      In any event, presidential misfeasance during a national crises seems an appropriate campaign topic. FDR didn’t give Herbert Hoover a pass during the Great Depression.

    2. If the President makes a pig’s ear of the most significant crisis he has faced during his presidency it would surely be inappropriate to disregard that fact during the campaign. If a leader rises to a challenge and steers the nation safely through it he/she is entitled to ask the voters to remember that the next time they cast their votes. By the same token if she/he flounders and fails to provide effective leadership his/her opponents are entitled to point this out to the electorate.

  15. You are correct about Red States not testing. Here in Alabama, my son called the county health department where he lives to inquire where he could be tested. They hung up on him when he said he was without health insurance. He was sent home from a new job with a fever. No one seems to know where or how one can be tested.

  16. I think this may be coming true. As of today (4/1/20), I’ve seen polls that Trump’s favorability on his handling of the pandemic has gone more negative, and he’s way below Joe Biden in a man-to-man matchup. Hope that stays true!

Leave a Reply