Enjoying wartime presidency
The author is a Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
On Sunday, U.S. President Donald Trump said, “We’re at war […] And we’re fighting an invisible enemy […] No American is alone as long as we are united.” He added, “As long as I am your President, you can feel confident that you have a leader who will always fight for you, and I will not stop until we win. This will be a great victory.” Ever since declaring himself as a “wartime president” last Wednesday, Trump has been confident or even brazen in his daily briefings.
On Sunday, the number of confirmed infections increased tenfold from 3,500 cases to 35,934 and the death toll soared to 480 from 66 in just a week. But he remained confident. When asked if the Trump International Hotels and Resorts would get assistance when the $2 trillion coronavirus bill is passed, he said he had taken his hands off management so he wouldn’t know. Instead, he said that large corporations should get help to maintain employment as global hotels were struggling.
The New York Times analyzed the best-case re-election scenario for Trump: the stock market loses momentum, but after the virus spread slows as the weather warms up, the crisis will be overcome before the November election. The daily response briefing is practically his campaign rally. As the crisis grows, media criticism on the U.S. government’s failure in its early response has subsided. In an ABC poll on March 20, the approval rating for Trump’s response to Covid-19 rose to 55 percent from 43 percent the previous week.
Iowa State University Prof. Steffen Schmidt explains it as the support effect of fear and security-oriented unity. When there is a threat like a war, people are united over a leader.
In contrast, the Democratic Party’s leading presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden has not done much other than keep a low profile in his Delaware home as the primary campaign has been suspended.
The re-election of a wartime president is not unprecedented. President Franklin D. Roosevelt became the only four-time president in the United States from the Great Depression in 1933 to World War II in 1944, comforting the people through a series of “fireside chats.” George W. Bush was re-elected with 50.7 percent of the votes in 2004 during the Iraq War.
Trump may be easily reelected as the wartime president fighting Covid-19. But his America First policy in an international crisis could have an impact on global order for a while. European allies are asking China for help, not the United States.