Trump’s poll ratings lift after he lowers the economy on his Covid-19 list of priorities

Across the United States the concert halls and theatres are silent. Broadway has shut down. The mighty 3800-seat Metropolitan Opera House is in lock-down. Actors, opera stars and choruses, musicians are on furlough if they are lucky.

But the best shows in town remain: the midday news conference by News York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the late afternoon White House press conference by President Donald Trump.

Both draw massive audiences – 12 million for the president – but both are as different as could be.  Andrew Cuomo, the 62-year-old 56th Governor the State of New York has become famous.  With his gravelly Brooklyn voice, he barks out facts, tells New Yorkers exactly what is going, is precise with statistics, even-handed with praise and brickbats. Importantly, he repeats again and again the blame stops with him.

Now a growing number of Democrats want to draft him  as their candidate in the November election against Trump. So far he is staying put. His place, he says, is with his state, with his 88-year-old mother and the city he loves. Maybe as candidate in 2024?

Back in the White House, the president is revelling in his media conferences which sometimes rumble on for two hours. Never mind the whole coronavirus crisis exposed the US as wilfully negligent and under-prepared.  In fact a pandemic preparation office at the White house was shut down on his watch, but of course he never knew about it and took no responsibility.

Unlike governor Cuomo, he doesn’t accept responsibility for anything other than good news. He stands at the podium with stony-faced officials arraigned behind him. Prominent is Dr Anthony Fauci.  A diminutive 79-year-old alongside the rather large president, he is another hard-nosed Brooklynite with the appropriate language and is the Director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

He has advised six presidents on everything from HIV/AIDS, to tuberculosis, malaria and crises such as Ebola and Zika. He’s also a master of tact and has stepped in forcefully to correct the president when he departs on his many flights of fancy and theories about corona virus and its treatment.

The other prominent official is fair-headed Dr Deborah Birx, Coordinator of US Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS and Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy.

She is also the whole-of-government Coronavirus Response Coordinator in  the Office of the Vice President. Like Dr Fauci, she has been steely eyed as the president launches into another soliloquy.

However, over the weekend, at the White House, they both convinced the president that for all his early insouciance, the pandemic was deadly serious and produced projections on likely infections the likely mortality rate which clearly shook him to the core.

Gone were his predictions of opening the economy by Easter (“the churches will be packed, it will be a beautiful day.”)  This had been triggered by a call-in with a group of business and financier pals who tried to persuade him the economy had to be protected despite the loss of a thousand or two – or several thousands.

Instead he extended the social distancing, mulled over a quarantine of the states of New York and New Jersey but abandoned it because of legalities. He listed his three priorities: combatting the disease, protecting people and only then the economy.

In effect this has turned him into an almost-leader, not of Governor Cuomo proportions, but coming close, and his approval ratings have soared to around 46%, the highest since he took office.

There is a sub text here. The presidential election campaign has been in suspense since the crisis erupted. Campaign rallies have been suspended. Joe Biden, the presumptive Democrat candidate, is at his best working the crowd. He stolidly reads his speeches. Now he has built a television studio in his home, but all he can do is rage against presidential shortcomings.

While recent polls suggest he is the most trusted to take charge of the virus response, he doesn’t score well on managing the economy.

What’s more, Trump is catching him in popular polling with Biden at 46% and Trump at 44%.

Of course, there is an “incumbent bump” for the president – just as PM Jacinda Adern will score heavily in leadership polling. The race remains wide open.

 

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