Martin Schram: Trumping presidential trust

Tribune Content Agency

Day after day, during our struggle to survive this deadly coronavirus pandemic, Americans have the rare opportunity of being able to witness presidential leadership in action.

And of course Republicans ranging from the leaders of Congress to President Donald Trump’s most trusting hardcore voters in every state cannot help but be impressed by the truly presidential quality of leadership and truth-telling they are seeing. Which means they must feel anguish and sadness as they realize the only time they are seeing truly presidential quality leadership is at 11:30 a.m., during the daily briefings of New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

When they then tuned into the Trump White House’s 5:30 p.m. daily news briefings, they have seen their president often starting solidly by reciting from a written list of facts. But inevitably, day after day, they have seen the president they fervently support and defend become discombobulated, dishonest and downright dismissive of unfortunate facts they know are true.

Example: Trump has insisted that his America has (as he said the other day) “a great testing system — we have the best testing system in the world.” But they know he is lying because they have seen health workers and sick people around the country complaining that they could not get tests for the coronavirus shorthanded as COVID-19. They have seen reports that rank America 11th among the world’s nations in COVID-19 testing per capita (which is vastly better than the U.S. rankings in the 30s at the end of March).

Trump’s supporters also have seen the president lash out with bullying personal attacks on reporters who asked him legitimate questions he didn’t want to answer. No doubt many liked those moments. But they also realize the question was fair and the answer affects them where they live. Example: The questions about a Trump administration report that discovered severe shortages in many hospitals nationwide.

And they have seen Trump attacking governors and insisting states are responsible for solving their own pandemic problems. Yet governors such as Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine have shown exemplary presidential-quality leadership in acting early and decisively to protect his fellow Ohioans. Too bad he’s not going to be the Republicans’ 2020 presidential nominee.

We all have seen videos showing us how Trump squandered the first two months of 2020 by denying the realities of the killer coronavirus that started in China and spread around the world — even though Trump’s intelligence briefings and other top officials repeatedly warned him of the deadly dangers America would soon face. Rather than lead a massive World War II-styled defense mobilization — manufacturing and stockpiling ventilators, ramping up a massive system to test, trace, track and quarantine infected people — Trump plunged into two-plus months of willful denial of the truths he knew.

But what we didn’t know was an alarming and even frightening warning that Republican leaders on Capitol Hill received, but didn’t promptly share with us. Mainly, they didn’t share it, with dramatic attention-getting urgency, with the one segment of our fellow Americans who were most at risk of being infected by this deadly disease and needed their warning call most of all: Trump’s most fervently loyal voter base.

That shocking but little-noticed fact was contained in a lengthy Washington Post investigative report last Sunday about a poll that GOP leaders on Capitol Hill had been given in March but had not rushed to share with those who most needed to be warned. The public opinion survey by the respected Republican pollster Neil Newhouse reportedly showed Trump’s two-plus months of false assurances and lies about the coming coronavirus danger had lulled Trump’s most trusting supporters into a false sense of security that could produce deadly consequences, according to a Washington Post investigation. That false sense of security was sadly reinforced by repeated reports that appeared on Fox News and in other conservative sites, according to a document accompanying the poll.

Trump’s trusting supporters were “putting themselves and their loved ones in danger” by not taking vital precautions, the poll’s analysis reportedly concluded. The document found that “distressingly large numbers” of Republicans had been refusing to cancel travel plans and hadn’t maintained safe “social distancing” in public places. The document added a chilling warning: “Denial is not likely to be a successful strategy for survival.”

We may never discover the answer to the key life-or-death questions raised by those revelations:

How many of Trump’s most loyal voters ended up contracting this deadly coronavirus because they trusted and believed their president? How many ended up infecting any of their family or friends? How many died after contracting the disease their trusted president promised them would soon vanish “miraculously?”



Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. Readers may send him email at


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