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Some criticize President Trump’s COVID-19 efforts, but not these Americans

It’s not obvious on Twitter, but millions of Americans approve of the president’s response to the novel coronavirus

SHARE Some criticize President Trump’s COVID-19 efforts, but not these Americans
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President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus in the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House, Wednesday, April 1, 2020, in Washington, as Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, listens.

Alex Brandon, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — From accusing President Donald Trump of a “deadly lack of leadership” to having “blood on his hands,” critics are denouncing the White House response to the novel coronavirus as a disaster unfolding in real time.

Tens of millions of Americans, however, think the president’s management of the crisis is outstanding.

They are tuning in to lengthy White House briefings in numbers that rival “Monday Night Football.” They find comfort in his assurances that the nation will quickly rebound from the pandemic and its economic fallout. They see the president as an inspirational and capable leader who has risen to an extraordinary challenge, much like British Prime Minister Winston Churchill did during World War II.

“Let’s face it, this is his Churchillian moment,” economist Stephen Moore said recently on Fox Nation.

Although Trump’s approval rating has slipped in some polls this week, Gallup recently found that 60% of Americans approve of how Trump has managed the government’s response to the novel coronavirus, which has killed more than 7,000 Americans and sickened more than 1.2 million people worldwide.

In Utah, 58% of registered voters approve of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, compared to 38% who disapprove, according to a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll

The numbers, which are higher than his general approval rating (45.8% Friday, according to FiveThirtyEight), have raised eyebrows in some media circles. “No matter what he says, people seem to be seeing him as a leader,” MSNBC anchor Andrea Mitchell recently said.

But the president has found backers not only in the deep red states that contributed to his win in 2016, but also in less expected places, such as Hollywood, where actress Kirstie Alley has been tweeting her support.

Here’s a sampling of pro-Trump sentiment from Americans who believe the president is handling the pandemic with aplomb.

‘Serious business’

Retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Robert C. Oaks, 84, is staying home in North Salt Lake for the course of the pandemic, and said he was shaken by the recent death of beloved Utah businessman Bob Garff, who contracted COVID-19.

“(Garff) was in a good hospital, and they couldn’t keep him alive. This thing is much worse than anybody thought. This is serious business, and I feel (the president) is treating it like it’s serious business,” Oaks said.

Oaks met Trump when the then-presidential candidate visited Salt Lake City in 2016 and they talked about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Although they had disparate views, Oaks said he found Trump willing to adjust his thinking based on the knowledge and experience of others, and he has seen this occurring throughout the pandemic.

“He listens. He finds people who have a good experience base, and he listens to them. And he has done that throughout his presidency, in my estimation. 

“He’s also decisive. He finds out, the best he can, the facts regarding a situation from the authoritative people; he makes a decision where he’s going to go, and he goes. And he holds to it. That’s a leadership trait that I put high stock in,” said Oaks, who commanded the U.S. air forces in Europe from 1990-94.

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Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, shakes hands with retired U.S. Air Force Gen. Robert C. Oaks after Hatch spoke at a rally for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump at the Capitol rotunda in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Some critics have said the president was initially too focused on the economy at expense of human life. For example, they cite his remark that, “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself” and his wish, since abandoned, to get Americans back to work and filling churches by Easter.

Others, however, believe the president is right to worry about the economy, given that financial instability and unemployment are detrimental to pubic health, and they like how he has brought business leaders to White House briefings on the pandemic.

As Michael Reagan said recently on Twitter, “This is why we hired a business person to be president. Public-private partnership is going to save us.” Reagan, the oldest son of the 40th U.S. president, also tweeted, “If you don’t have masks, ventilators and gowns, it is not Trump’s fault. It is the system that was not prepared and it hasn’t been prepared for many, many years. Trump is trying to fix it. Quit blaming Trump.”

And of people who criticized the president’s now-abandoned wish to return to something resembling normalcy by Easter, he wrote, “The important thing is that the president gave us hope, not despair.”

‘I trust our president’

Sherry Perra, a self-employed mother of four in the suburbs of Minneapolis, has seen her husband’s business slowed by the pandemic and a daughter unhappily returned from a college semester in Spain. Perra, however, remains confident in what the president is doing and watches all the White House briefings, which sometimes last more than an hour.

“He has assembled an amazing task force, and I love Dr. (Deborah) Birx. … I watch every single day. I trust our president, and I trust the task force he’s put together, so it gives me an opportunity to listen to them directly and not get it as a third-party from the media.

“CNN and Rachel Maddow of MSNBC and others have said said they would prefer to not carry these live, which is crazy. I think one reason his polls are so high right now is because people get to hear him live and make their own determination. That’s why they don’t want him live. They would rather pick apart the things he says,” Perra said.

Both national networks and local stations are debating whether to continue carrying the White House briefings, which are unusual in number and length, and raise questions about whether it’s appropriate to give so much air time to a president in the midst of a campaign.

Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan says the briefings have turned into campaign rallies. But writing for Axios, Sara Fischer and Ursula Perano note there’s a party-line division on the issue.

“While some members of the press are calling for networks to stop featuring the briefings, other members of the media suggest refusing to broadcast the press conferences would be out of spite for the president,” Fischer and Perano wrote.

In fact, response to the pandemic overall has been colored by partisanship, some analysts say. In multiple polls, Democrats have expressed more concern about COVID-19 than Republicans, and elected officials in red states have responded differently to the pandemic than those in blue states, Ronald Brownstein wrote for The Atlantic.

“The huge differences between Republicans and Democrats extend not only to assessments of Trump’s response to the outbreak but also to its underlying level of danger and the need to change personal behavior. If anything, there’s considerable evidence that those gaps are widening,” Brownstein wrote.

According to Pew Research Center, 78% of Democrats and “Democratic leaners” say the novel coronavirus is a major threat to U.S. citizens, compared to 52% of Republicans and Republican leaners.

A partisan divide also exists in Utah, according to the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll. As Dennis Romboy reported, 79% of Utah Republicans approve of the president’s management of the pandemic, compared to 20% of Democrats.

Conservative pollster Scott Rasmussen told Romboy that the high approval ratings may include people who don’t think the White House response has been perfect.

“It is possible to believe he and the government were a bit slow getting started but have done a good job since,” Rasmussen said.

Even enthusiastic Trump supporters like Perra, however, believe that the president has come into his own over the past few weeks. “I have seen a shift in how he presents himself, really from Day 1. His demeanor seems to be different. I hate to say he’s more presidential, because I like his straightforwardness, but he has been much more unifying,” Perra said.

Much of the criticism directed at the president has concerned the administration’s early response to the threat of the novel coronavirus, which emerged in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019. Defenders interpret Trump’s early statements, as when he famously told the nation to relax, as a smart effort to keep Americans calm as deaths were rising in Italy and China.

“The American people understand that the full, domestic threat of COVID-19 became apparent only slowly,” Augustus Howard wrote in the New York Post. “When health experts called for more extreme measures, voters saw a president — in defiance of the left’s caricature of him — act on the science, issuing guidance that put public health above economic considerations.”

Similarly, writing for CNN, political strategist Scott Jennings argued that the average American feels that the White House, like the rest of the world, had no way to see this coming, which is why even some Democrats and independents say they approve of the job the president is doing.

“People are giving the President some latitude here. Americans were caught off guard by this virus and don’t blame Trump for its arrival at our borders. And because it is such an unusual event, they are giving the federal government some room as it figures out how to handle it.

“If you hate Trump already, you will conclude that no matter what he does it must be wrong and was done with impure motives. But for the large percentage of Americans who don’t hate him for living, his administration is being allowed some grace time as it feels its way through an unprecedented situation,” Jennings wrote. He added that Trump may actually benefit from some of the venom directed at him during the pandemic.

If Americans believe Trump’s critics are overreacting, they may be more likely to support what he’s doing. In past times of national crisis, presidents have enjoyed what is known as a “rally round the flag” bump in approval ratings. President George W. Bush’s approval ratings climbed to 90% in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks, for example.

Writing for the Washington Post, Henry Olsen noted that Trump’s gains during the pandemic are “relatively paltry” compared to other Western leaders.

Trump supporters, however, dismiss such remarks as partisan sniping that is even stronger because it is an election year.

“There is an irrational hatred of our president that is widespread in our country. I just disregard it; I think it’s important to keep looking at what he does,” Oaks said. He added that the real test of Trump’s leadership during the pandemic will come on Election Day. “I trust American judgment,” he said.