Trump Reelection Team Aims To Use COVID-19 To Rewrite Narrative

Apr 3, 2020
Originally published on April 3, 2020 8:09 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The people working to get President Trump reelected are planning for how they are going to have to address the coronavirus pandemic on the campaign trail. They see an opportunity to rewrite the narrative and double down on Trump's America First agenda.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The coronavirus shows the importance of bringing all of that manufacturing back to America. And we will have that started.

MARTIN: NPR's White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez has more on the campaign's plan.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: President Trump has come under fire for being too slow to embrace the threat and trying to shift blame to the Chinese for mishandling the outbreak. But Republican strategist Scott Jennings, who is close to the White House, says the president's political warnings about China, and particularly the scramble for masks and other medical supplies, will resonate with the American people.

SCOTT JENNINGS: When you look at how much of our critical health industry and, you know, other critical infrastructure supply chain is wrapped up in China, you know, this was a wakeup call on that front. So I would expect the president to be hammering on that all fall.

ORDOÑEZ: A Republican close to the president tells NPR there have already been high-level discussions about this with top officials, including trade adviser Peter Navarro, who has long advocated against multilateral trade. With the president standing next to him, Navarro said yesterday that the crisis had vindicated Trump's Buy America approach, and promised changes to ensure these supplies would be made in America.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETER NAVARRO: If we learn anything from this crisis, it should be never again - never again should we have to depend on the rest of the world for our essential medicines and countermeasures.

ORDOÑEZ: For Trump supporters, the pandemic illustrates the problems with globalization and how the United States has become dangerously dependent on unreliable partners like China. But for critics, the outbreak exposes the risks of the president's isolationist policies and the lack of U.S. leadership.

BRETT BRUEN: What has now, unfortunately, come home to roost are all of the chickens out clucking about America First.

ORDOÑEZ: That's Brett Bruen, who served as the White House's director of global engagement in the Obama administration.

BRUEN: The United States, both for our own safety and security, clearly need cooperation, coordination, collaboration with all these other countries because we don't win this fight against the coronavirus on our own.

ORDOÑEZ: That poses a dilemma for both sides. On the one hand, the U.S. is over-reliant on China. On the other, it can't fight the outbreak without China. China is the world's biggest producer of masks and other protective equipment that U.S. health care workers desperately need right now to fight the pandemic. It is now sending planeloads of medical supplies to New York and other parts of the United States where they are needed.

Stephen Morrison, a health policy expert at the CSIS think tank, says the problem is the United States is forgetting the lessons from the Ebola crisis.

STEPHEN MORRISON: The mantra that grew out of that era is, you have to go to the source. You have to be fast. You have to be able to get to the source of these outbreaks. And you can't do that as a fire brigade.

ORDOÑEZ: But the president sees it differently, as he recently told a group of pharmaceutical executives...

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: It's not good to be dealing with one or two or three countries.

ORDOÑEZ: In other words, Trump plans to start doing it at home.

Franco Ordoñez, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.