Trump: I “disagree strongly” with the governor of Georgia in reopening certain businesses so early; Update: Kemp responds

I’m at a complete loss. How the hell did we go from “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” last week to him gently scolding a Republican southern governor for allowing some select businesses to reopen a few days before May 1?

What he says is sensible. I’ve pointed out myself that some of the businesses greenlit by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, like hair salons, can’t possibly comply with the federal “phase one” guidelines to maintain social distancing. Deborah Birx hinted at that too at yesterday’s briefing. But Trump’s spent the past month insisting that May 1 is his target date. The “LIBERATE MINNESOTA” and “LIBERATE MICHIGAN” garbage came after the guidelines were issued. Why is he suddenly so gun-shy about even a partial reopening in Georgia, which has seen some improvement lately in terms of containing its epidemic?

I can think of only two explanations. One: His advisors convinced him that Georgia is at high risk of a second wave if it follows through with Kemp’s plan and he’ll end up taking the blame from Democrats if he cheers it on. He’s covering his ass here, just as he did during his recent conference call with the governors when he dropped his claims “total authority” over the reopening and told them that they’ll call their own shots. Having become the public face of the “reopen now” push, he’s backing away at the very moment that it might actually have adverse consequences.

Two: He’s paying Kemp back for crossing him by appointing Kelly Loeffler to the vacant Georgia Senate seat instead of MAGA favorite Doug Collins. Trump went to bat for Collins, lobbying Kemp to name him instead. In the end Kemp went his own way, defying the president. The president doesn’t like to be defied. So here he is pulling the rug out from under Kemp 36 hours before his new reopening policy takes effect in Georgia.

I lean towards the first theory. There’s a post coming up later about a new Quinnipiac poll out of Trump’s must-win home state of Florida showing him not just trailing Joe Biden but trailing him by 10 points among senior citizens, normally a Republican group. Other questions in the poll make clear that Floridians generally and seniors in particular are nervous about seeing their state reopen before public health officials say it’s safe. And it’s not just Florida. This new AP data comes from a national poll:

Even most Republicans think the current restrictions in their city or county are appropriate, with some wanting even more restrictions. Maybe Trump’s political advisors finally convinced him that the “reopen ASAP” push is highly unpopular politically and is beginning to cost him with groups he absolutely has to win in order to get reelected. So here’s the president suddenly insisting that he wants to go slow on reopening as well.

The other notable moment from today’s briefing came when Trump had CDC chief Robert Redfield take the podium and halfheartedly clarify the comments he made to the Washington Post yesterday about the second wave of the disease. Trump clearly didn’t like the idea that the next round of the disease might be worse than this round; his reelection chances will depend largely on the public’s perception that he got the epidemic under control by fall, after all. So Redfield had to go up there and make clear that all he meant is that controlling COVID this fall could be more challenging because we’ll be trying to manage the annual flu epidemic alongside it. Watch Trump himself in the second and third clips below step up to try to make the case that things will be much, much better in the fall. (He got some welcome support from Anthony Fauci later in the briefing.)

You would think he’d have learned by now that there’s no way to pre-spin the reality of this. He’s getting killed by Democrats for his many statements in February that the epidemic was under control, that the virus will be going away soon, etc etc etc. They’re going to hang those statements around his neck from now until November. If the second wave is worse than expected, they’re going to hang *these* statements around his neck too, especially where he speculates that it might not come back at all. (Fauci contradicted him on that.) He’s going to be judged on the hard number of deaths and confirmed cases on Election Day no matter what he does; the least he could do is not make his problem worse by offering rosy scenarios that might not be borne out. He’d be better off saying something blandly reassuring about the effort, i.e. “We’ll move mountains to try to prevent even one more American from having to endure this terrible illness.” But he’s a salesman by nature so he can’t resist overpromising. Big mistake.

Update: As he was in the Loeffler/Collins matter, the governor is polite but firm. He’s sticking with his decision.

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