By Chris Cillizza
On July 21, 2016, Donald Trump formally became the Republican presidential nominee.
In his acceptance speech, Trump made this bold claim (bolding by the writer):
“I have joined the political arena so that the powerful can no longer beat up on people that cannot defend themselves. Nobody knows the system better than me, which is why I alone can fix it.”
Even at the time, those words were odd. Trump was casting himself as the only person in America — a nation of 330 million people — who could fix the problems with inequity? Who could bridge the gap between the ‘haves and the have nots’? Who could make the country more, well, equal?
Almost four years to the day since Trump made the “I alone can fix it” claim, it now appears more likely than not that those five words will be the lead of his political obituary.
Why? Because with 104 days left before the 202 election, the President continues to struggle to wrap his arms around the coronavirus pandemic — and the public has taken notice.
In a Washington Post poll released over the weekend, just 38% approved of the job Trump was doing to deal with the pandemic, while 60% disapproved. An ABC News-Ipsos poll released earlier this month painted an even grimmer picture for Trump, with 33% approving of how he has handled the crisis and a whopping 67% disapproving.
After months of doubling and tripling down on fact-free claims that the virus was receding — and that mask-wearing wasn’t necessary — Trump pivoted hard on Monday, tweeting a picture of himself wearing a mask and announcing that he would restart daily coronavirus daily briefings that he canceled in late April because they were “not worth the time & effort.” And in Tuesday’s briefing, Trump acknowledged that the virus “will probably unfortunately get worse before it gets better.”
While I am deeply skeptical that Trump will stick to this seemingly new tone and tack on dealing with the coronavirus, even if he does, it may well be too late.
See, the problem with very publicly claiming that you are the only person in the country who can fix the problems that face the country is that when problems arise in the country, people expect you to fix them. Because, well, you said you would. Literally.
Now, there’s no way Trump — or anyone else — could have known that we would be dealing with a global pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen in more than a hundred years when he said what he said at the Republican National Convention in 2016.
But since at least January, it was clear that a) Covid-19 was dangerous and b) it was very likely to wind up in the US. Despite that reality, Trump spent much of the late winter and early spring downplaying the threat.
“It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control, ” he said in January”It’s going to be just fine.”
“The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” he said February. “We are in contact with everyone and all relevant countries.”
“This is a very contagious virus,” he said in March. “It’s incredible. But it’s something we have tremendous control of.”
“I think we’re gonna be very good with the coronavirus,” he said on July 1. “I think that at some point that’s going to sort of just disappear. I hope.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 3.9 million Americans had tested positive for the coronavirus. More than 142,000 have died from it, including more than 1,000 on Tuesday alone.
Trump’s downplaying of the threat did not solve the problem. In fact, his resistance to wearing a mask and his pressure campaign on governors to reopen their states and, now, to reopen schools in the fall, have made things objectively worse.
Far from being the only one who can solve this biggest problem facing the country, Trump has proven to many people over these past few months that he was — and is — simply not the right person to lead America through this sort of crisis.
That realization might have doomed his reelection chances no matter what. But that Trump voluntarily put himself forward as fixer-in-chief makes his botched handling of the coronavirus crisis all the more stark, and all the more damaging to his chances of getting reelected in November.