How do you defend a president who has mismanaged a pandemic that has killed more than 170,000 Americans? On Monday, the Republican Party gave its answer: You lie. At its convention, the GOP presented an almost entirely fake history of President Donald Trump’s response to the novel coronavirus. Like authoritarian parties in other countries, the Republicans substituted propaganda for reality. Some networks cut away from the convention to fact-check these statements, but it was impossible to keep up in real time. Here are the biggest differences between the party’s fictional narrative and what really happened.
1. Travel bans. Several speakers at the convention, including Donald Trump Jr. and House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, claimed that when the virus struck, Donald Trump “quickly took action” by “shutting down flights from China and Europe.” Natalie Harp, a member of the Trump campaign’s advisory board, told viewers: “Just imagine what 2020 would have looked like, fighting for your life without Donald Trump fighting for it, too. In January, there would have been no China travel ban. Millions would have died. Millions more would have been infected.”
That’s totally false. Trump resisted the proposed ban on travel from China when his health officials recommended it. He didn’t accept it until the airlines themselves shut down flights. Because the ban was porous, millions of people got infected anyway: The viral strain that overwhelmed Washington state arrived from China two weeks after Trump’s order. And Trump didn’t shut down travel from Europe until six weeks later. By that point, European passengers had seeded the pandemic in the United States.
2. Emergency declarations. A video at the convention boasted that while the World Health Organization “got coronavirus wrong,” Trump “took decisive action to save lives” by “declaring a national emergency.” The video contrasted Trump, shown speaking from the Oval Office, with a WHO tweet that reported “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.” But this narrative obscures the timeline. The WHO tweet, which referred specifically to “preliminary investigations,” was posted on Jan. 14. Two weeks later, on Jan. 30, WHO declared a global “public health emergency.” Trump didn’t declare a national emergency until six weeks after WHO’s announcement.
3. Testing. Harp asserted that “without Donald Trump,” millions of additional Americans “would have been infected, for there’d be no record levels of testing.” That’s a complete inversion of reality. In February and March, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, persistently warned that the United States wasn’t testing enough people and that a surveillance testing program had to be set up. But Trump, out of vanity and complacency, opposed that idea. On March 6, visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the president said that instead of “going out and proactively looking to see where there’s a problem,” it was better to “find out those areas just by sitting back and waiting.” Later, as more tests were produced and deployed, Trump constantly complained that the tests, by exposing infections, made him look bad.
4. Medical supplies. The convention video praised Trump for unleashing “billions of dollars” in “emergency funding” and “quickly getting crucial personal protective equipment to the states.” Trump Jr. said his father “acted quickly” to deliver PPE “to our brave front-line workers.” But the real story is less flattering. On Feb. 5, when Alex Azar, the secretary of health and human services, requested $4 billion to stock up on equipment, White House officials angrily refused. Three weeks later, the president belittled talk of shortages and accused Democrats of “forcing money” on him. In April, he threatened to withhold supplies from governors who failed to be “respectful of the presidency.”
5. Vaccines. Scalise, in his convention remarks, credited Trump with “empowering scientists to create a vaccine.” Harp said that without Trump, there would have been “no fast track for a vaccine.” That’s laughable. On March 2, when pharmaceutical executives briefed Trump at the White House about their work on vaccines, their progress was news to him. Video of the meeting shows that the president, far from leading the effort, was baffled by the timetable. He repeatedly misunderstood the sequence of vaccine development and had to be corrected by Fauci.
6. Speed. Convention speakers and videos extolled Trump’s response to the virus as “swift” and “quick.” One speaker, a nurse, claimed that the president “made rapid policy changes” because he “recognized the threat this virus presented for all American early on.” Another speaker, a doctor, said Trump’s “decisive leadership led to a rapid and efficient response.” That’s all nonsense. A thorough review of the record shows that Trump dragged his feet, downplayed the threat, and slowed every element of the government’s response.
Trump has lied about the virus all along. He’s still lying. “We just have to make this China virus go away. And it’s happening,” he declared in a convention video, even as thousands of Americans continue to die. But the president is no longer alone in his fictional universe. He’s backed by a party that glorifies him with fabrications: that he stood up to North Korea, that his impeachment was “fake,” and that he “ended once and for all the policy of incarceration of Black people.” The tale of his struggle against the virus is just another heroic myth. Trump “is a visionary,” Rep. Matt Gaetz explained to the audience. What’s “built in the mind is even more powerful” than reality, said Gaetz. That’s the message from the first night of the convention: This is no longer a party of limited government, national security, or the rule of law. It’s a party of lies.