Donald Trump’s Mr. Hyde always outlasts his Dr. Jekyll, and the monster reared its head again on Friday, when Trump’s feud with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo escalated as both men leveraged their preferred mediums (Trump’s Twitter feed and Cuomo’s daily briefings) to clobber one another.
The opening salvo was launched by Cuomo who, in response to Trump’s just-released three-phase plan for reopening the states, suggested that Trump’s plan is to “pass the buck without passing the bucks” when it comes to COVID-19 testing.
Here, Cuomo is basically saying New York can’t reopen without more widespread testing, and that isn’t going to happen unless the federal government provides more help (on Thursday, Trump insisted that the U.S. has “tremendous testing capacity”).
Next, Trump, who was apparently watching Cuomo’s briefing on TV, took to Twitter, writing that Cuomo “should spend more time ‘doing’ and less time ‘complaining.’” He also tweeted about all the “money, help, and equipment” the federal government has given New York, and that Cuomo never says “thanks.”
“If he’s sitting home watching TV,” shot back Cuomo, “maybe he should get up and go to work, right?”
After Trump repeated claims that New York has not used the hospital beds and ventilators provided by the federal government, Cuomo cited President Trump’s warning that there could be 100,000 to 240,000 fatalities. “They’re your projections, Mr. President,” Cuomo said. “If we were foolish for listening to you, then shame on us.”
It went on like that.
At his briefing Friday evening, Trump again put the burden on the governors, saying: “The governors are responsible for testing and I hope they are going to be able to use this tremendous amount of available capacity we have.” He again said about ventilators “that a certain state” wanted “far more than were eventually needed.”
Trump self-certified that “we got it just about right,” without saying anything about the federal projections Cuomo had relied on when asking for many more ventilators. Later, he added: "We'll help New York, and all the states, get even better on their testing" even as he stressed that the responsibility here fell to the states, not the feds.
It’s notable, if only for two days, that Trump seems to be trying to be sober and presidential on TV (and to step off stage long enough to justify the idea these are briefings and not substitute rallies) while saving his fire for Twitter and other appearances
During Thursday night’s coronavirus task force briefing, Trump stressed bipartisan unity, noting that he is working with “some really great people—people that have become friends of mine. And I’m including Democrat governors that have really done a good job… We’re all for the—with few exceptions, the relationship has been outstanding.”
Presumably, Cuomo is one of the exceptions.
The White House’s guidance for the states to reopen is generally serious and cautious. But it also places a lot of burdens on states to do absolutely vital things like testing. This, presumably, sets up governors like Cuomo to become foils if anything goes wrong, or if they simply don’t have the resources.
But as important as the substance is, this is also a food fight. Donald Trump likes to pick fights, and this is merely the latest example. He picks them because they distract from his failings. He picks them because they are catnip. He picks them because he usually wins.
It’s almost impossible to win a fight with Trump, but it seems that Cuomo might be doing it here. Trump can't respond with facts, since those are plainly on Cuomo’s side. The president didn’t even try on Friday, just tossing out some insults and unrelated assertions on twitter.
Scoring this one at home, Trump ends this week in something of a self-made predicament: beaten up by another tough guy from Queens.