For the President, who likes to create his own reality with the support of Fox News, the decision is a big blow. Trump has desperately wanted to make sure that Republicans can convene a grand convention on the scale of what other incumbents have enjoyed in the past. He thirsts for a celebration of his term and the public confirmation that he is as successful as he says.
But he can’t have that.
Trump mocked the use of face masks and was not publicly seen wearing one until earlier this month. He shouldn’t get the equivalent of a political cookie for finally putting on a mask more than seven months after the virus first emerged and suddenly declaring himself patriotic for doing so. Trump has sidelined scientific experts such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, just when the country needed them the most. As a result of Trump’s actions, the Covid crisis is continuing to spiral out of control in the US, while countries like Italy and Germany are reopening.
Throughout American history, presidents have often found themselves bogged down by their own policy failures. Herbert Hoover’s middling economic policies were not nearly strong enough to prevent the implosion of the American economy during the Great Depression. Lyndon Johnson’s decision to escalate the war in Vietnam devastated his domestic legacy. As he told his biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, “That bitch of a war killed the lady I really loved — the Great Society.” President George W. Bush burned through the political capital he earned after 9/11 with a needless and disastrous war in Iraq.
While it is possible for presidents to survive an imbroglio, as Bush did in 2004, their legacies can rarely be repaired. These disastrous decisions often loom so large that they become the starting point for any conversation about a presidency and Trump doesn’t have many accomplishments that will stand the test of time and improve his reputation. With the case of Covid-19, the dire impact on society and the wreckage of American institutions might be so grand that it will be years if not decades before we recover from what happened in these trying months.