The Slatest

Which Republicans Have Been Most Diplomatic About Calling Trump’s Back-to-Work Plan Insane and Suicidal?

Graham makes a face that conveys resignation as he stands in front of a microphone.
Lindsey Graham on Capitol Hill on March 19. Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

The Donald Trump–Fox News feedback loop has been on a terrifying kick this week about how you can’t make the “cure” for the coronavirus pandemic (staying home so you don’t get infected/infect others with a deadly respiratory virus) worse than the disease itself, because having too many people at home harms “the economy,” and so everyone needs to “get back to work” at the end of a 15-day social distancing period, which Trump claims began last week. This is such a shortsighted reading of what’s good for “the economy” that even hard-line Republicans are disagreeing with it. Let’s rank those disagreements from the most to least polite.

1. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. Here’s what DeWine, who has been ahead of the curve in shutting down public spaces, said on Twitter: “Let me talk about our economy. Every single day I think about those of you who are unemployed. I think about the small businesses. I know that each day that goes by that you don’t have income is very, very tough. And I fully understand that. I’ve been asked if I had a reaction to the President’s statements yesterday. I think we are aligned. We want to get this over with ASAP. We want people back at work. The frustration he has, I share it. Each day we can’t move forward is frustrating. We’re all in this together. The truth is that protecting people and protecting the economy are not mutually exclusive. In fact, one depends on the other. We save our economy by first saving lives. And we have to do it in that order.”

Claiming you’re totally “aligned” with Trump when you’re really saying something completely opposite, but in a way that he wouldn’t understand unless he bothered to learn the details about what your specific state is doing, is a masterpiece of Trump management, because he is not going to learn those things.

2. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton. Cotton’s behavior has long suggested that he is planning to run for president as a younger version of Trump who is less personally embarrassing but just as hatefully nationalist. His current take is that China may have engineered the coronavirus—and that, even if it didn’t, the country’s government let things get out of control because of the incompetence and dishonesty inherent in a communist system. The U.S. must do whatever needs to be done to eradicate the coronavirus, Cotton believes, in order to prove the superiority of our way of life. His take on the back-to-work issue: “This is the stark truth: we have to arrest the spread of the China virus to get the economy back on its feet & get life back to something like normal. The good news is that no country at no other time in history is better poised to act quickly than our great American nation. Our docs, our scientists, our inventors, our workers—all hands are on deck!” This is an interesting split-the-difference approach: disagree with Trump, but do it while using USA #1 rhetoric that might persuade him to change his mind.

3. Faux-intellectual racist Steve Bannon. Bannon has fit the virus into his long-standing civilizational warfare schema by suggesting that it’s being used as a weapon by China. (This overlaps with Cotton’s view, but Bannon’s spin is less about patriotic posturing and more about paranoid geo-strategic bombast. It’s also worth noting that Bannon is currently a paid consultant/partner of a fugitive Chinese billionaire involved in a legal dispute with the Chinese government.) Here’s his take, on Fox: “My recommendation would be to drop the hammer, don’t mitigate the virus, don’t spread the curve, shatter the curve. And go full hammer on the virus right now with a full shutdown, use the stimulus to bridge the economic crisis—it may take $2 trillion, it may take $3 trillion to force cash into the little entrepreneur and the little guy.” Bannon uses Trump-like rhetoric here, but it seems likely to be less effective than what Cotton is doing, given that the Dow-fixated president forgets a little more each day that he ran for office on the premise that he would support “the little guy” rather than major stockholders in large corporations.

4. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham. Said the senator on Twitter: “When it comes to how to fight #CoronavirusPandemic, I’m making my decisions based on healthcare professionals like Dr. [Anthony] Fauci and others, not political punditry. Try running an economy with major hospitals overflowing, doctors and nurses forced to stop treating some because they can’t help all, and every moment of gut-wrenching medical chaos being played out in our living rooms, on TV, on social media, and shown all around the world. There is no functioning economy unless we control the virus.” Graham is one of the finest sycophants working today, and this is unusually confrontational for him. He even linked to a Washington Post article that was directly critical of Trump and Fox. Does he know something the rest of us don’t about which way the political winds are blowing?

5. Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney. Said Cheney: “There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what’s necessary to stop the virus.” Low marks for president-pandering on this one. Doesn’t compliment Trump, doesn’t insult Democrats or the Chinese. It seems like Liz Cheney is getting dangerously close to letting her personal fear of dying from a respiratory virus overwhelm her political self-interest.

6. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. Maryland is a heavily Democratic state, and Hogan’s political survival depends on not being one of those kinds of Republicans, so he gets to be honest in situations like this, and on Tuesday he was very honest, telling CNN that “we don’t think that we’re going to be in any way ready to be out of this in five or six days or so, or whenever this 15 days is up from the time that they started this imaginary clock.”

Larry Hogan is not going to get invited to the big Easter party at the White House that is going to cause a new outbreak of the coronavirus!

For more on the impact of the coronavirus, listen to What Next.