Fighting a crisis, the likes of which not seen in a century, the Trump administration has finally found its footing on a response to the COVID19 threat to Americans. This dual-track approach to address the public health crisis and protect the economy is what needs to be done to ensure the nation will ride out this storm in the coming months.
With the president’s address to the nation last night, the White House has made a full transition from the unfortunate "it’s under control" and "it’s contained" messaging of the first days of the crisis, to a much more robust and aggressive approach that should give Americans greater confidence.
No government is ever fully prepared for a pandemic.
They cannot be truly contained. In the United States we have planned for years for such an occurrence but given the very specific nature of each virus, complete planning is difficult.
While many people expect that government, especially one of the size and complexity of our federal government, would somehow spring into action deploying resources immediately, the facts and history demonstrate that is simply not possible.
The sign of a strong team and a well-coordinated effort is allowing people to focus on their individual strengths for the benefit of the mission. The dual track approach being deployed by the White House allows the administration to pull upon the strengths of its principles, namely the president and vice president.
The vice president’s efforts to marshal the subject-matter and public health experts has added a strong level of credibility to the Administration’s messaging. The near daily press conferences with the heads of the CDC, HHS, NIH and other agencies is better ensuring that as the scientific research and analysis advances the message is fact-based and well measured.
Allowing the president, on the other hand, to focus on protecting the economy allows him to dig into familiar territory and reduces the chance for statements on the public health issues that can be misconstrued.
This is a time for choosing words carefully and a science-based approach to how we communicate about the threat.
That’s not the president’s strong suit.
But, protecting American workers and the economy are clearly his wheelhouse.
Trump’s efforts over the last week to get the insurance industry to wave co-pays and extend coverage to treat the virus are important steps toward help Americans dealing with the virus. The president’s bold payroll tax proposal has great potential to protect workers and businesses, particularly lower income and hourly workers.
The president understands that while the risk of infection and death remains low overall, the economic impact of this crisis will also be felt widely including by the majority of Americans who rely on their 401ks and other retirement investments already rocked by the stock market’s downturn.
It is a certainty that the federal government and state health departments need to get millions more testing kits into local community hospitals and doctors’ offices. While assuring those kits are reliable, produced and distributed responsibly is taking more time than people would like, the administration’s approach to this unprecedented emergency is taking shape.
The travel restrictions, the first federally mandated quarantine in 50 years and other actions now need to be matched by unprecedented emergency legislative action to protect workers, businesses and human health. That must be done now, while the slow process of scientific research hunts for treatment options.
With this dual track messaging having taken shape, now the hard part for Washington.
All political leaders, from the president on down should do everything they can to instill a sense of confidence in the American people by eschewing any discussion of the 2020 presidential campaign and party politics. That would boost the credibility of their efforts and institutions at a time when Americans need to believe government can help guide the nation through troubled waters.
Tom Basile has been part of the American political landscape from Presidential campaigns to local politics. He served in the Bush Administration from 2001-2004, as Executive Director of the NYS Republican Party and has held a range of senior-level communications roles in and out of government. Basile's critically-acclaimed book, "Tough Sell: Fighting the Media War in Iraq" (Foreword by Amb. John R. Bolton), chronicles his time in Baghdad fighting media bias and driving fairer coverage of the Iraq war. In 2011, he was featured in Time Magazine's Person of the Year spread about political activism around the world. Basile is an adjunct professor at Fordham University, a local elected official and runs a New York-based strategic communications firm. He is a member of the New York Bar and sits on a number of academic and philanthropic advisory boards. Learn more about him at TomBasile.com or follow him on Twitter @Tom_Basile. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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