Day 1,183: Trump flip-flops on his claim of ‘total authority’ for all the wrong reasons

Just days ago, Donald Trump made the authoritarian claim that the when it came to forcing states to do something related to a coronavirus response, his “authority is total. And that’s the way it’s gotta be.”

Thursday he flip-flopped on that idea, but for all the wrong reasons.

The Good:

Under new federal guidelines, Trump is leaving the decision of when to open up to individual states.

“You are going to call your own shots,” Trump said [on a Thursday afternoon telephone call with governors], according to a person familiar with the conversation. “I’ve gotten to know almost all of you, most of you I’ve known and some very well. You are all very capable people, I think in all cases, very capable people. And you’re going to be calling your shots.”

While Trump doesn’t understand the words or the weight of the Tenth Amendment, he didn’t have the power to force governors to do anything anyway.

The Bad:

Trump is mainly concerned not with the welfare of Americans but with the political implications of a additional coronavirus outbreaks. That has made him too scared to truly lead.

Trump’s the-buck-stops-with-the-states posture is largely designed to shield himself from blame should there be new outbreaks after states reopen or for other problems, according to several current and former senior administration officials involved in the response who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

It seems patently obvious that if things go well, Trump will try and corral all of the credit. If things go poorly, Trump will deflect all of the blame, as he always does.

One of the biggest problems with the federal government’s guidelines is they’re missing crucial details and realistic paths to accomplish suppression of the virus. Notably, when it comes to testing — widely considering the biggest factor in determining how safe areas are — Trump is completely punting on the issue.

Governors have said one of the most important factors in making those determinations is testing data, but Trump’s plan does not contain a national testing strategy. Senior administration officials said that although the federal government will try to facilitate access to tests, states and localities will be responsible for developing and administering their own testing programs.

Yet the three phases in Trump’s guidelines have a tacit need for increased testing. All require an understanding of how many people are infected and the risk factors at play to determine when to move between the phases.

Trump is waving the white flag — at least temporarily — on his attempt to wield authoritarian powers. Yet he’s only doing it to protect himself from political fallout should the coronavirus see a second wave. On top of that, he’s leaving governors with little to no help in performing the most critical part of seeing their states through the handling of the pandemic.

1,183 days in, 279 to go

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