It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how or where it started, but the political blame-game over the coronavirus has proven highly contagious, spreading rapidly among Democrats and Republicans as it infects the 2020 election discourse.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden accused President Trump on Sunday of being ill-prepared to handle the public health emergency, criticizing his decision to place Vice President Mike Pence in charge of the U.S. response and calling it “outrageous the way they proceeded.”
“This is not a Democratic hoax,” said Mr. Biden on ABC’s “This Week.” “This is incompetence on the part of the president of the United States at the expense of the country and the world.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Massachusetts Democrat, also targeted the administration Sunday, tweeting, “Mike Pence paid more attention to politics than science and gravely worsened a health crisis in Indiana. I can’t think of a worse person to put in charge of dealing with coronavirus.”
I just received a call from @VP Mike Pence, thanking Washington state for our efforts to combat the coronavirus.
I told him our work would be more successful if the Trump administration stuck to the science and told the truth.
— Jay Inslee (@JayInslee) February 28, 2020
Meanwhile, Mr. Pence sought to take the high road as he made the rounds on the Sunday talk shows, touting the president’s decisions last month to suspend all travel from China while announcing that 15,000 test kits are being rolled out nationwide.
“I think what the president said earlier this week and his charge to me is to remind the American people that the risk is low, to assure the American people that we’re ready, but also to say, as the president said, this is no time for politics,” said Mr. Pence on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
He could hardly escape the political angle, however, as Democratic operatives promoted the #TrumpVirus hashtag on social media, while Republicans accused Democrats of weaponizing the coronavirus for political gain.
Donald Trump Jr. lashed out Friday at his father’s critics, saying, “Anything that they can use to try to hurt Trump, they will.”
“For them to try to take a pandemic and seemingly hope that it comes here and kills millions of people, so that they could end Donald Trump’s streak of winning, is a new level of sickness,” said Mr. Trump on “Fox & Friends.”
His comment prompted CNN’s Jake Tapper to ask Mr. Pence: “I don’t expect you to criticize the president’s son, but you don’t think that Democrats want people to contract this disease, do you?”
Mr. Pence replied, “I think that was Don Jr.’s point, that there has been some very strong rhetoric directed at the president by some members of Congress and political commentators.”
Pressed by NBC’s Chuck Todd to provide an example, the vice president cited Wednesday’s op-ed by New York Times columnist Gail Collins headlined, “Let’s call it Trumpvirus.”
“When you see voices on our side pushing back on outrageous and irresponsible rhetoric on the other side, I think that’s important, and I think it’s justified,” Mr. Pence said.
There were other examples. On Wednesday, Democratic presidential primary candidate Michael R. Bloomberg unveiled a 30-second ad, “Pandemic,” that contrast his response to the 9/11 terrorist attack with the Trump administration’s action on the coronavirus.
“Health experts warn the U.S. is underprepared,” says the ad. “Managing a crisis is what Mike Bloomberg does.”
I was criticized by the Democrats when I closed the Country down to China many weeks ahead of what almost everyone recommended. Saved many lives. Dems were working the Impeachment Hoax. They didn’t have a clue! Now they are fear mongering. Be calm & vigilant!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 2, 2020
Social media lit up over the weekend after Mr. Trump accused Democrats at Friday’s rally in Charleston, South Carolina, of “politicizing the coronavirus” and called it “their new hoax,” prompting claims that he called the disease itself a hoax.
“Remember the moment: Trump, in South Carolina, just called coronavirus a ‘hoax,'” said Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank in a Friday tweet.
Among those who pushed back was Rep. Mark Meadows, who replied, “That is not what President Trump said. At all.”
At Saturday’s White House briefing, Mr. Trump was asked if he regretted his comment, to which he said that “hoax” referred to “the action that they take to try and pin this on somebody, because we’ve done such a good job.”
“I’m not talking about what’s happening here; I’m talking about what they’re doing. That’s the hoax. That’s just the continuation of the hoax, whether it’s the impeachment hoax or the ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’ hoax. This is what I’m talking about. Certainly not referring to this. How could anybody refer to this? This is very serious stuff,” Mr. Trump said.
So far neither side appears willing to quarantine its talking points. Democrats pointed to the stock market’s tumble last week as proof that the “Trump administration is bungling every aspect of this crisis,” as Ms. Warren put it.
“I have a plan to combat this outbreak and make sure our economy works for everyone. That’s the leadership we need,” she tweeted on Friday.
At the annual CPAC gathering, White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said that the media paid no attention to the administration’s “extraordinary steps” to combat the coronavirus a month ago, because the focus was on impeachment, “and that’s all the press wanted to talk about.”
That was then. “The reason you’re seeing so much attention to it today is that they think this is going to be what brings down the president,” Mr. Mulvaney said. “That’s what this is all about.”
⦁ Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this report.
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