Will the coronavirus and the poor response doom Trump’s reelection chances?

Ross Douthat wonders maybe so (NYT), Arnold Kling says probably not:

Closing the border is his signature issue, and the Democrats have staked out a position as the “resistance” to that. I know that they think they can benefit from this crisis, but I would be surprised if they do.

My earlier Feb.3rd Bloomberg column suggested it would help Trump.  I won’t repeat the core claims of my column (some summarized here), but I am still sticking with that earlier call for a few reasons:

1. Few Americans will know/understand that some foreign governments did a better job than we did, and indeed that is already the case in many other policy areas.  “Foreign country did this better than us” is never an argument that works in American politics.

2. The literature on political business cycles suggests that absolute performance is not what matters, but rather whether the economy is gaining momentum.  So if the coronavirus situation is improving in the months leading up to November, Trump will receive some credit for that, no matter how poor the initial response.  And I think that plausibly will be the case.  Even if you believe in a second winter wave, it may take longer to materialize.

3. The literature on disaster spending suggests politicians are rewarded electorally for their response to disasters, not for preparation.  Enough of the American public still is oblivious to this issue that a major Trump action still could be marketed as timely and indeed pro-active.

4. For my hypothesis to be true, Trump at some point needs to make a “big push” kind of response, but I consider that highly likely, even if the push is ill-considered in its details.


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