President Trump, having stopped dismissing the threat of the coronavirus and calling criticism of his laggard response “their new hoax,” has begun insisting everybody was shocked. “It’s something that nobody expected,” he has said. Conservative pundits have picked up this revisionist history. “Armchair Quarterbacks Try to Rewrite History on Coronavirus,” argues National Review’s David Harsanyi. “Generalized ‘Trump didn’t take this seriously enough!’ stuff is ignoring the timeline, wherein every major Democrat didn’t take it very seriously until early March either,” insists Ben Shapiro.
One example of a major Democrat who took this seriously would be Joe Biden, who, as the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, is arguably the major Democrat. Biden wrote an op-ed on January 27 warning that Trump had left the country unprepared to handle the coronavirus outbreak, and proposing steps to counter it. One of his main advisers, Ron Klain, wrote an op-ed making similar points five days before that.
The primary defense made of Trump is to compare his laggard response against the straw-man alternative in which the only alternative was to close down everything three months ago. “Now we’re going to act as if politicians were negligent for failing to try to lock down the entire economy in early January?” writes Harsanyi mockingly. Obviously, there were numerous steps available short of a total lockdown. Indeed, the massive lockdown was only necessary because Trump failed to take any advance steps, like mobilizing an effective testing system, stockpiling masks and ventilators, and reconstituting some kind of structure to replace the pandemic response team he dismantled in 2018.