Monday, April 27, 2020

Trump Pivots -- And I Imagine the Inevitable Campaign Ad

Remember the Iraq War?  Remember how George W. Bush took us into a war with no plan, screwed up that country completely, and then lost interest?

Now we have Donald Trump, who, having "dealt" with the coronavirus crisis by first trying to "keep the numbers down" by doing nothing, then insisting his administration was doing a great job, has now decided, in the aftermath of the Great Bleach Injection Fracas of 2020, to "pivot" over to an economic message.  He can't control the narrative about the infection and death toll of COVID-19 in this country (which as I write this stands at around 986,000 confirmed infections and over 55,000 deaths), so like an unruly child who breaks everything in the gift shop before being hustled out by his mother, he's leaving the wreckage for the states to clean up and "pivoting" to the economy.

This from Axios:
Driving the news: The Coronavirus Task Force — and the doctors who've become household names, Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci — "will continue but take a back seat to the forward-looking, 'what's next' message," a White House official told Axios.

What we're hearing: "Expect to see a pivot from the White House in the days ahead, focusing on the economy and a more hopeful, forward-looking message," one of these officials said.

Trump will host businesses who've been harmed by the coronavirus, and he'll highlight the governors who are reopening their economies in line with the Trump administration's guidelines. That group pointedly does not include Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

Some governors are gingerly trying to reopen their states as public health experts warn of a second wave of infections.

What's next: The White House briefings will eventually scale back and come to an end. But in the meantime, Trump's team plans to build his calendar around events that highlight a "safe" reopening of the economy.

The team for weeks has deliberated what a plan to stimulate an economic rebound should look like, one official said, concluding that "POTUS is strongest when he's focusing on things we can win — like bringing back the economy — rather than giving updates on the virus."
And it just might work for him.

Imagine the ad:  The sun is shining.  A man in an apron sweeps the sidewalk by his restaurant's outdoor tables.  He smiles at the camera and says, "We're back -- and better than ever."  A smiling bus boy wipes a table.  A man in a chef's coat chops vegetables on a pristine counter. He looks up and says "We're back -- and better than ever." Cut to a glimpse inside a sports bar, where every table is full.  The tables are placed discreetly apart, but they are full of smiling white people cheering a football game while drinking beer and chowing down on enormous hamburgers and fries.  Cut to a shopping mall, where two attractive women push strollers laden with bags from mall stores.  Two of them look at the camera and say "We're back -- and better than ever."  Cut to a baseball game where the crowd chants "We're back -- and better than ever."  A paunchy white guy is grilling enormous steaks on a grill.  He raises his grill fork, waves it around his suburban domain and says "We're back -- and better than ever."  You get the picture, right?  

Cut to Trump reciting figures that reinforce the idea that he did a great job with the pandemic, to him signing relief bills, to the West Point commencement appearance he's going to do, and so on.  The voiceover in all this is something along the lines of "This country endured a catastrophic pandemic that  the previous administration left us woefully unprepared for.  Yet despite the wreckage left to him by Barack Obama, President Donald Trump steered us through this unprecedented challenge -- and through his strong, powerful leadership, brought us safely to the other side.  And now we're back.  America is back.  We're back, and we're better than ever. And nothing can stop us now."

Cut to a big crowd of white people with Trump standing triumphantly on front of them.  They yell "We're back -- and better than ever" while holding Trump signs.  Trump grins with his trademark "thumbs up."

I can see this ad as clearly as if it were already running.  Perhaps I can see it because it's right out of the Ronald Reagan "Morning in America" playbook. 

Trump's stock in trade is fear and loathing, but a nation wearied by fear may not respond to ads about the Great Brown People Horde that Steven Miller might want.  Buried underneath all of Trump's ridiculous speculation about miracle cures and how he just wants to get this virus crisis behind him, is a marketer's knowledge that people want hope.  They will cling to whatever hope they might be.  I'm quite certain that there are people on ventilators in hospitals all across the country who will never leave the hospital except in a body bag, but because there is a 20% chance that they might get off the ventilator, they'll take it.  We want to hope.  We want to think things will get "back to normal", even those of us who know that whatever comes out of this will at best be a kind of weird, not-quite-there alternate universe version of normal, have trouble coping with the idea that this may just be how we have to live from now on, with spot shortages and masks and no hugs.

Unless the reopenings that are occurring fail because curbside no-contact is not a viable business model, or because we see a renewed spike in cases, or if there is a second wave of the virus in the fall, it is going to be hard to run against "We're back -- and better than ever." (Actually, it's probably going to be "We're back -- bigger and better than ever," given Trump's preoccupation with size.)  

Joe Biden is an inherently cheery, folksy guy and HIS ads, under normal circumstances, would write themselves.  But how does Biden run against Morning in America Redux? Dark visions of the time we live in right now may not resonate in the fall. People will not want to remember.  We are a nation of spoiled whiny-ass titty babies.  The people demonstrating in the street demanding access to hair salons and tattoo parlors show who and what we are.  Jimmy Carter failed against Morning in America.  Walter Mondale failed against Morning in America, even though it wasn't morning for poor people and minorities, and the evisceration of the working class was well underway.  Does Team Joe have the savvy to be able to counteract the old Reagan playbook?  Color me skeptical.

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