WASHINGTON — President Trump’s chances of winning a second term will depend on two critical issues: defeating the coronavirus and putting millions of jobless Americans back to work.
As of this week, the president has failed on both counts.
The coronavirus pandemic has sprung to life again with new vigor, largely the result of Trump’s crusade to reopen state and local economies and businesses that breathed new life into the virus’s rampage.
Beaches, bars, pools and other businesses were reopened, crowds gathered together in malls, with the president seemingly leading a campaign to dispense with face masks and throw caution to the wind.
Trump not only encouraged the opening but fostered it with a crowded political rally of thousands of supporters at an arena in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The predictable result: New virus infections sickened 50,000-plus people in five of the previous seven days, as cases spiked in Texas, Arizona, Nevada, South Carolina, West Virginia, Georgia, Tennessee and California.
“I’m not satisfied with what’s going on because we’re going in the wrong direction,” said infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci at a Senate hearing last week.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told lawmakers that he would not be surprised if the number of new infections doubled from 40,000 a day to 100,000 a day.
“We’ve really got to do something about that, and we need to do it quickly,” Fauci said. “Clearly, we are not in total control right now.”
Meantime, three and a half months into the pandemic, the U.S. economy remains in deep trouble, losing more than 20 million jobs in March and April.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the jobless rate in June was an abysmal 11.7%, but down from 14.7% in April.
New claims for unemployment benefits topped 1.3 million for the week ending July 4, on top of an additional 1.4 million the week before. And The Washington Post noted last week that “more than 19 million people are still receiving unemployment benefits, stubbornly high levels that show how many people are struggling to find or keep work.”
The Congressional Budget Office had even worse news, saying the coronavirus has hit the labor market so hard that it would not fully recover within the next decade.
That’s not how Trump sees his trouble-plagued economy, insisting at a news conference last week that “America’s economy is now roaring back to life like nobody has ever seen before.”
But some of Trump’s economic advisers appear to disagree.
“There is still a lot of hardship, and a lot of heartbreak in these numbers,” said the president’s national economic council director, Larry Kudlow. “I think we have a lot more work to do.”
“The pandemic pushed us into a very deep economic hole,” says Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “We can certainly fall back.”
That view is also held by Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, who earlier this week said the U.S. economy remains “extraordinarily uncertain.”
But Powell wasn’t extending a helping hand to further help lift this economy out of its troubles.
“For the specifics of what you need to be doing we have the treasury secretary,” he told the House Financial Services Committee. “I would defer to the treasury secretary on fiscal matters here.”
Translation: “Over to you, Mr. President. This is your problem now.”
Donald Lambro has been covering Washington politics for more than 50 years as a reporter, editor and commentator.