It’s the opposite of the “buck stops here” leadership that defines strong corporate executives and presidents alike. Yet while blame-casting may represent Trump’s best option as a matter of raw politics, the “not my fault” line poses a much tougher sell from the Oval Office than in 2016, when Trump was an outsider.
As the damage has grown, so have Trump’s attempts to absolve himself.
“I don’t take responsibility at all,” he said of the administration’s testing woes.
His cast of culprits has expanded as desperately-needed medical supplies grow more scarce. He accused his predecessor Barack Obama of having left “an empty shelf” in the Strategic National Stockpile.
He faulted states, rather than his administration, for failing to counter coronavirus faster. “They have experts,” he shrugged.
Less than a month ago, he blamed leaders in Europe for insufficient aggression to contain the threat. Now Vice President Mike Pence acknowledges America’s plight as “most comparable” to that of Italy, which has suffered the most coronavirus deaths on the continent.
Polls show Trump has benefited from the American tradition of rallying around leaders during crises. But his uptick lags behind those of previous presidents and the governors he targets.
That poses political problems for fellow Republicans in November. His allies have lately proffered another excuse: that the Democrats’ impeachment effort distracted Trump from coronavirus.
The President’s aversion to accepting responsibility proved too strong for that. “Had I not been impeached,” he told reporters, “I don’t think I’d have acted any faster.”
Life and death provides the ultimate yardstick. Claiming success in late February, Trump insisted: “We have a total of 15 people and they’re in a process of recovering.”
This week, administration public health experts called 100,000 to 240,000 fatalities their best-case outcome. Trump in turn credited himself with resisting earlier entreaties to sit back and “ride it out” at a cost of more than a million dead.
Voters soon will judge whether that he has met the standard he set as business executive-turned-candidate four years ago.
“The most basic duty of government is to defend the lives of its own citizens,” he told the 2016 Republican convention. “Any government that fails to do so is a government unworthy to lead.”