White House adviser Kellyanne Conway appeared to signal a new shift in messaging on the coronavirus pandemic on Wednesday by throwing governors — particularly Republican allies of the president — under the bus.
Of course, this is a common tactic in President Donald Trump's administration. As soon as it becomes convenient, abandon any allies and blame them for any mistakes.
But in this case, the attempt is so cynical and transparent to anyone with a long-term memory that it's hard to believe it could work at all. Conway apparently wants us to forget Trump's attitude toward the pandemic for the last three months. She made this clear as she blamed states for opening up too quickly and triggering a resurgence of the coronavirus, even though that's exactly what Trump urged them to do.
"Some of these states blew through the phases, blew through our gated criteria, blew through our phases, and they opened up some of the industries a little too quickly, like bars," she told a group of reporters. "Remember, the governors wanted complete latitude over when they would open their states. They pushed back heavily, handsomely, Republicans and Democrats, when it was falsely rumored that the president was going to be in charge of opening the states."
"He encouraged them to open—" a reporter pointed out.
"But not everybody has," she said. "And remember, he pushed back on the governor of Georgia, a Republican, who he frankly helped get elected, he pushed back on him early. And some people didn't like that. But he did that, he said publicly to all of you: 'I think it's just a little too early. Why don't we wait a little bit longer?' So the president was already on the record doing that long before these other states decided whether they would open or not."
In these remarks, Conway was trying to blatantly rewrite history. She's right that on April 23, Trump told Gov. Brian Kemp he was moving too quickly to reopen Georgia. But that move was itself a reversal — Trump had been signaling in the days prior that he was eager to see states reopen. Trump has already thrown his support behind anti-lockdown protesters, calling to "liberate" states from restrictive coronavirus countermeasures.
And while Trump did pump the brakes lightly that week, he soon aggressively jammed on the gas to reopen the country in contradiction of his administration's own guidelines. The fact that the virus is now surging through the country and deaths from COVID-19 are rising for the third straight week in a row is a direct consequence of that recklessness.
It was clear at the time how reckless Trump was being, and experts across the country warned against it. But despite Conway's denials, it was Trump himself who took the lead on reopening.
On April 28, Trump was already telling states to consider reopening schools.
On May 4, the Washington Post reported:
States across the country are moving swiftly to reopen their economies despite failing to achieve benchmarks laid out by the White House for when social distancing restrictions could be eased to ensure the public's safety during the coronavirus pandemic.
These governors' biggest cheerleader is President Trump.
A slew of states — such as Texas, Indiana, Colorado and Florida — have pushed forward with relaxing social distancing guidelines even as the number of people testing positive in many states has increased in recent weeks and testing continues to lag behind. White House recommendations released last month encouraged states to wait to see a decline in cases over a two-week period, as well as having robust testing in place for front-line workers before entering "Phase One" of a gradual comeback.
Texas and Florida are among the states that have since seen major spikes in cases and deaths.
And on May 22 — despite Conway claiming Trump cares about federalism and respecting states' independence — Trump threatened to "override" any governor who did not permit religious services to return to their halls of worship. Experts have warned that such gatherings have many of the conditions most prone to allow rampant spread of the virus.
So there's no getting away from it. However much Conway tries to lie and spin her way out of it, she admitted that the premature reopenings are to blame for the virus's resurgence. And the blame for the push to reopen early — not to mention the failure to create an infrastructure for tracking and suppressing the virus — falls squarely on Trump's shoulders.