Opinion: Donald Trump’s COVID-19 policy has become a target, sending shudders down the GOP ballot

That the coronavirus pandemic was a focus of the Democratic National Convention from the get-go surprised no one, least of all the GOP candidates who will dwell beneath President Donald Trump on the November ballot.

And these lesser Republicans are getting nervous.

Not for the first time, a Washington Post/ABC News poll, released as Democrats assembled behind their laptops for their virtual kick-off, identified the president’s COVID-19 response as an obvious vulnerability.

Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, including 62% of independents and 1 in every 5 Republicans.

Despite the advance warning, Monday’s slings and arrows still stung.

“My dad was a healthy 65-year-old. His only pre-existing condition was trusting Donald Trump — and for that he paid with his life,” said Kristin Urquiza, whose father died of COVID-19 this summer in Arizona.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York faulted “the failed federal government that saw New York get ambushed by their negligence, and then watched New York suffer, but all through it learned absolutely nothing.” (No, Cuomo didn’t mention his own nursing home debacle.)

Michelle Obama, the former first lady, brutally connected Trump’s handling of the pandemic with the larger issue of competency. “He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment,” she said.

Before any of these Democrats spoke, the Trump campaign attempted an inoculation and put Gov. Brian Kemp on a telephone presser. The governor defended the Trump coronavirus record.

“Nobody’s ever promised a vaccine by the end of the summer and the fall,” Kemp said — a delivery schedule that experts say is unlikely to be met.

“There’s very promising trials going on right now,” the governor said — while admitting that speed isn’t the only consideration.

But the governor himself has significantly altered his own coronavirus policy, which has taken a beating from leaked weekly state-by-state reports from the White House coronavirus task force.

Last week, Kemp dropped his lawsuit against Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and the Atlanta City Council for instituting a masking mandate that Kemp said his emergency orders forbade.

Then Saturday, the governor issued a revised emergency order that specifically allowed local governments to require face coverings in public spaces — though the governor requires private business participation to be voluntary.

Asked to explain the shift, the governor at one point admitted to a need to resolve a conflict in his approach.

“We had gotten to the point where, with schools reopening, that we needed to be consistent. We were allowing the schools to do masks if they wanted to,” Kemp said.

On the other hand, the governor said his lawsuit was never about the masks.

“This was about the mayor of Atlanta trying to start shutting businesses down and ruining livelihoods of our citizens. And I just was not going to allow that to happen. It’s unfortunate that the press only wanted to talk about masks, because that’s not what it was about,” he said.

The thing is, Bottoms and her staff will tell you that she never claimed the power to shut down businesses or cap their customer traffic as the coronavirus asserted itself in her city. They will also tell you that the mediation sessions ordered by a Fulton County judge were concerned solely with the masking issue.

Which Kemp himself kind of admitted. “[The mayor] wanted to be able to control what happened on personal property and private property — and I don’t think that’s appropriate,” Kemp said. “If business owners want to allow local governments to enforce mask mandates, they can opt in.”

Many Republicans, Kemp and Trump included, have framed mask mandates as a violation of personal liberty — an imposition on individuals and businesses alike. It is an attitude that puts a hard limit on governmental responsibility, even at the most local level. And that is a source of frustration for many.

Suppose you flip the script. Ask yourself whether you, as a consumer, have a right to know whether a business is doing the right thing — before you and your family walk through the door.

On Monday, before Democrats pontificated and Governor Kemp explained, I had a conversation with state Rep. Chuck Efstration, R-Dacula. He faces Democrat Nakita Hemingway in November.

You’ll remember Efstration as the author of the hate crimes bill that was signed into law in June. He is a Republican in search of a more middling way, and has floated a three-point coronavirus policy package.

It’s aimed at those “who are interested in asking what else can government do in this crisis,” Efstration said.

His first proposal: The building of an alliance of business and government that can distribute same-day testing for the coronavirus as soon as it becomes available. “I really view testing with same-day results as the cornerstone of getting Georgians the information they need,” Efstration said.

If there’s a steep price, the state needs to pony up. “Whatever the expense,” were his exact words.

Secondly, Efstration wants “learning centers” to help working parents trapped between the viral exposure that in-person schooling represents, and the inability to supervise virtual learning at home.

Parents with money are forming “pods” — small groups of socially distant students. The state needs to help working families of lesser means do the same — in safe spaces that follow CDC guidelines. Especially where virtual learning is the only option.

Yes, this too would cost money. But it would also keep more people at their jobs.

Lastly, Efstration would create a state certification for businesses that comply with COVID-19 guidelines. Don’t want to mask up? Fine. Enjoy your freedom. This would be a registry for businesses that do.

“Until customers feel safe using those businesses, it will be difficult for our economy to get back to what we need it to be,” Efstration said. Such a registry would let consumers know who the good actors are.

Efstration said he has discussed coronavirus policy in general with Kemp staffers but has avoided specifics.

Early this month, the governor served notice that he intends to call a special session of the General Assembly. Kemp has not set a date, nor set the parameters for legislation to be considered.

Efstration would like to see language in the governor’s “call” to allow an airing of his ideas. Preferably before November.

About the Author