Even divisive habits can survive a contagion. This week it became clear that no national emergency will get President Donald Trump to quit his political smearing. This week he twisted the facts regarding Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and medical equipment — at a moment when the "wartime" White House draws fire on the topic.
Cuomo, the Democratic governor of Trump's home state, commands national attention with informational briefings from the epicenter of the U.S. outbreak. Along the way, Cuomo and officials of other states and localities criticized the federal government's foot-dragging.
On Tuesday, Trump took to the airwaves and contorted a 5-year-old state government report. He said Cuomo had “rejected buying recommended 16,000 ventilators in 2015 for the pandemic, for a pandemic, established death panels and lotteries instead. So, he had a chance to buy, in 2015, 16,000 ventilators at a very low price, and he turned it down.”
On Wednesday, the nonpartisan website PolitiFact offered a reality check. Trump's fabrication stems from an internet posting by former Lt. Gov. Betsy McCaughey, who during the debate over the Affordable Care Act peddled canards about "death panels" and "rationed care."
Trump, in his unchallenged comments about Cuomo on Fox News, recited without attribution a headline from the frequently unreliable Gateway Pundit website.
The slim reed on which it all rests is a 2015 state Health Department report that discusses ventilator allocation guidelines that officials could apply in a flu pandemic. Under the most severe scenario, about 18,600 ventilators would be needed during the peak week, the report said.
The state had no "current plans" to buy enough ventilators for the most severe scenario but was supplied for lesser or more "moderate" scenarios, it said.
According to the report, New York's "current approach to stockpiling a limited number of ventilators balances the need to prepare for a potential pandemic against the need to maintain adequate funding for current and ongoing health care expenses."
In other words, there were limits to how much the government would spend on this item at that time.
The propaganda purpose of this mudslinging was clearly to turn the discussion from assessing medical-equipment woes that might embarrass the president. But Cuomo is not the only target of Trump's pandemic-time shots at those who dare irritate him. Mitt Romney, the only Republican senator who voted for Trump's impeachment, self-isolated after exposure worries. It was later reported that he'd tested negative for coronavirus.
Trump's response on Twitter: "This is really great news! I am so happy I can barely speak. He may have been a terrible presidential candidate and an even worse U.S. Senator, but he is a RINO [Republican in name only], and I like him a lot!”
Petty snark in the time of virus has a way of turning high-level calls for national "unity" hollow. But this is what you have right now in the White House.