From masks to school reopenings to the testing abilities of the United States, some of President Donald Trump’s central political talking points are being undermined by a growing circle of usually reliable allies as the coronavirus roars back to alarming levels.
The breaks with Trump come as the president’s poll numbers on handling the virus and his job approval in general continue to sink, while the administration tries to put the virus in the rearview despite record-breaking case numbers and straining health care systems.
And while the White House has publicly aimed its fire at infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci and other public health experts, a deeper rift has emerged in the administration and the Republican Party at large about Trump’s attempts to minimize the devastation and risks of the coronavirus as November’s election draws closer.
Some of the most direct splits with the administration have come on the issue of testing, which, while markedly improved since the earliest days of the U.S. outbreak, is still not where experts say it needs to be, with delays in test results sometimes stretching a week or more in some areas.
Trump’s former chief of staff Mick Mulvaney panned the administration’s testing abilities in an op-ed on Monday, calling the struggles his family encountered when trying to get tested and the wait time for results afterward “simply inexcusable.”
Tuesday morning the pile-on continued as “Fox & Friends” host Brian Kilmeade acknowledged a “huge testing issue,” as well as a growing scarcity of personal protective equipment as virus cases surge once more.
“What he can do, what the president can do, and what his administration can do is make sure those aren’t an issue. I mean it’s been four or five months. It should not be an issue,” Kilmeade said.
The White House has continued to defend the administration’s testing capabilities, with Trump again calling America the “best in the world” at testing and reiterating his belief that testing is a “double-edged sword.”
In Florida, where the state shattered a daily case record over the weekend, Gov. Ron DeSantis adopted a more somber tone on Monday as he addressed residents’ fears over the virus, including over whether students should return to school in the fall as his state is planning.
“I know many Floridians are filled with apprehension as they wonder, you know, what does this mean. What do these trends mean for our health, for our families, and for our jobs? How long is this going to go on for? What’s going to happen with things like kids being in school?” he said at a press conference.
“I hear you, and I along with our federal partners, our local leaders, and our great medical community, we’re working nonstop to be able to respond to this crisis,” he continued, urging Floridians not to be “swept up in fear.”
DeSantis also acknowledged testing problems, explaining that the state needed “faster results.”
Texas, another Sun Belt hot spot, made waves when it moved to roll back reopening measures across the state, closing bars and restricting other businesses seen as contributing to rising cases. And after rejecting calls to issue a mask mandate, Gov. Greg Abbott initially granted local leaders greater authority to issue their own before ordering face coverings be worn in most of the state.
When Houston’s Democratic mayor canceled the Texas GOP’s in-person convention last week, the move drew criticism from the party and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. But Rep. Dan Crenshaw, a freshman lawmaker seen by some as a rising star in the party, applauded the decision and called it a “prudent move for public health.”
Even so, the GOP is pressing forward with plans to hold its nominating convention in a little over a month in Jacksonville, Fla. The New York Times reported Tuesday that officials have decided to move three days’ worth of events — including Trump’s marquee nomination speech — out of an arena into outdoor venues, a change made after consulting with the president and other political advisers Monday night.
The decision comes as Republican lawmakers have exhibited skepticism about attending the event, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and other Republicans have announced they will skip it altogether.
And in spite of what has turned into an aggressive push from the White House for schools across the country to reopen in the fall, complete with threats to choke off federal funding for districts that don’t comply with orders, some of the largest districts in the country have spurned the administration on in-person instruction.
Even some Republican school chiefs and traditionally GOP-leaning groups like the Chamber of Commerce have expressed pause about the White House’s pressure campaign, while some rank-and-file lawmakers have been hesitant to echo Trump’s demand for in-classroom schooling for all.
“We don’t want a reemergence, we don’t want young people getting sick or bringing it home to their parents, or the teachers, some of whom are upwards in their age risk who could also be at further risk of contracting the disease,” Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) said Tuesday in an interview on Fox News.
“Yes, I want kids to go back to school, but if and only if, and I say that with capital letters, it is safe,” Smith argued.
In the meantime, Trump has taken aim at health officials, directly countering Fauci, who has become a household name throughout the pandemic for his bluntness when it comes to the severity of the outbreak.
On Monday morning the president retweeted messages from former game show personality Chuck Woolery complaining that “everyone is lying” about the virus, naming the CDC, Democrats, the media, and “our Doctors” in particular.
The indirect criticism came a day after the White House reportedly told multiple news outlets that several of its officials were “concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things,” and provided a lengthy list of statements the widely respected immunologist made in the early days of the outbreak that could appear damaging in retrospect.
In response, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted the president and the country’s top infectious disease expert “have always had a good working relationship.”
But less than a day later, top Trump social media adviser Dan Scavino posted a cartoon on Facebook depicting Fauci as an open faucet drowning Uncle Sam and the economy with demands to close schools, impose lockdowns and cancel the NFL season.
The administration’s testing czar, Adm. Brett Giroir, rebuked Trump’s pessimistic implications.
“Look, we may occasionally make mistakes based on the information we have, but none of us lie. We are completely transparent with the American people,” Giroir told NBC’s “Today” show Tuesday morning.
Giroir also defended the rest of the White House coronavirus task force, saying that Fauci and other task force members including White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn and CDC Director Robert Redfield all “work together every single day” and enjoy a “great, collegial relationship.”