The economic meltdown resulting from measures to contain the coronavirus began to bring political pain to Trump. The actual total, 3.3 million, turned out to be even worse than expected. The record-breaking amount reflects a US economy put into deep-freeze almost overnight. The government-ordered shutdown hasn’t just shuttered businesses temporarily, it has vaporized the jobs of millions of Americans – many of whom are the particularly vulnerable hourly service workers who live paycheque to paycheck.
The political reality for Trump is that there will be very real consequences for his presidency not only if the US death toll from the coronavirus pandemic continues to mount, but also if the US spirals into a deep recession. The coronavirus also brought political pain. A nation in economic turmoil early in an election year is a serious threat to a president’s political hopes. There are few more reliable indicators of ballot-box success or failure than the state of the economy. When times are bad, financial hardship becomes a roar that drowns out all other concerns.
Donald Trump, an economic meltdown and the efforts to contain COVID-19
While there’s been nothing quite like this in modern U.S. history, past crises – such as the 1990 Gulf War and the 9/11 attacks – this one produced ever more marked surges in presidential support. In both cases, however, those numbers eventually dropped, whether due to the long grind of suffering or an economic downturn.
Trump’s call for the nation to get back to work has been echoed by other conservatives who are more bluntly suggesting that aggressive measures to save American lives may not be worth the extended economic distress they require. The president’s rhetoric and the economic meltdown set up a potential conflict in the coming days with many governors, Republicans and Democrats, who have the ultimate authority in their states and will be reluctant to ease the restrictions on their populations.
Trump has also lashed out at a familiar foe: the US press. It’s an indication that the coming general election campaign is very much on the president’s mind. However, there is ample evidence of the president downplaying the threat the virus posed in the early days of the outbreak. Already the president’s political opponents are sharpening their attacks, sensing a long-term vulnerability on his handling of the viral outbreak.
Three million Americans without jobs have the potential to be a powerful political force. If job numbers is just the first wave of an economic onslaught, however, it may not nearly be enough. The economic meltdown resulting from measures to contain the coronavirus began to bring political pain to Trump. And the president seems to sense this.