Republicans are often keen to follow Donald Trump’s lead.
Tension over public health measures have begun to play out nationwide as long grocery store lines, closed schools and major canceled events serve as the backdrop for a nation sent reeling by the pandemic on Trump’s watch.
In the crowded GOP race to replace Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock in Montana, Al Olszewski, a Republican state senator and orthopedic surgeon, emphasized there is no one size fits all approach that works nationwide and isn’t predicting “business as usual come Easter.”
“I am hopeful that we can open up and start opening up our economy come Easter time, but I don’t think that it’s going to be opened up 100 percent,” he said. “I think it should be phased in to try to get us back up to full speed. It’ll probably take us two to three months to do so, and it’s dependent on successful treatments. It’s dependent on the availability of testing.”
Olszewski said he understands that Trump “is trying to be our cheerleader” and “provide optimism.” There’s plenty of fear and anxiety in Montana, he said, where people are more worried about their business and taking care of their family than they are of getting sick.
“With the president as the cheerleader, I know that he’s got people behind him that I’m sure are going to be more measured and will create phases,” Olszewski said. “That’s just the public health way.”
There are 11 races for governor on the ballot nationwide in 2020, according to The Cook Political Report, with seven currently controlled by Republicans. But in the four states held at the moment by Democratic governors, some GOP challengers were quick to wrap their arms around Trump’s approach as they look ahead to either longshot election chances or contests where they come in already at a disadvantage.
“Impossible deadlines to solve impossible problems are what we are all about,” North Carolina’s Lt. Governor Dan Forest, who is running to oust the state’s Democratic governor, said in a statement. “Today’s challenge could be our moonshot, our version of the Apollo mission.”
Experts have derided the timeline and even officials in the administration’s pandemic effort have shied away from the president’s hope for an April 12 return during the daily coronavirus briefings.
“America is a creative, innovative, resourceful and compassionate nation,” Forest said in his statement. “Stopping the Coronavirus pandemic and getting the economy up and running again can and must be done at the same time.”
Republicans in the era of Trump have been loath to break too far from the president, but some incumbent governors facing re-election while leading their respective states through the pandemic on a daily basis were quick to push back on any Easter promises this week.
North Dakota may have put on controls later than some places, Republican Gov. Doug Burgum said during a press conference Tuesday, but that could mean those controls remain on longer in the state than in other places “that are relaxing them.”
“Picking one date for the entire United States likely wouldn’t make sense,” Burgum said when asked about Trump’s Easter timeline.
A similar sentiment came across the country from New Hampshire’s Republican governor, a state that is a possible pickup opportunity for Trump in November’s general election.
“What we are not going to do is overly accelerate or loosen regulations just for the sake of the economy at the risk of public health,” Gov. Chris Sununu said during a press conference earlier this week. “...So whatever message is coming out of Washington, we’re going to take care of New Hampshire first.”
As the pandemic began to freeze life nationwide, Trump’s approach from the White House veered to concerns about a dire economic picture. Whether it came during a Fox News Town Hall held in the Rose Garden or during one of the daily White House press briefings, Trump’s fretting about the economy has come sharply into focus as large scale legislation aimed at boosting the economy has been considered in Congress.
In recent days, Trump has fixated on the country not shutting down and pushed the idea that an economic recession or depression could lead to death in “far greater numbers than the numbers that we’re talking about with regard to the virus.”
By midweek, his fixation on re-opening the country had moved to the conspiracy theory that reporters were the “dominant force” in the country trying to keep the country “closed as long as possible” so that it would hurt his re-election chances in November. Later that same day, after he had frequently touted a push to reopen the country weeks instead of months, Trump said he wouldn’t “do anything rash or hastily.”
“I don’t do that,” Trump said.
Trump also wasn’t specific during Thursday’s coronavirus task force briefing when asked about guidelines possibly being extended.
“When we’re open, as soon as we open, that doesn’t mean you’re going to stop with the guidelines,” Trump said. “You’ll still try and distance yourself. Maybe not to the same extent because you have to lead a life.”
Later on in the briefing, Vice President Mike Pence pledged they would “listen to the very best health experts in the world.”
“We’ll be presenting, this weekend, the president a range of recommendations and additional guidance for going forward,” Pence said. “The president’s made it clear that in his words he wants to open the country up, but we’re going to do that responsibly and as the president told the governors today we’ll do that based on the data.”
A fixation on the economy is shared by some candidates. In Minnesota, one Republican senate candidate urged in a statement Wednesday for his state to “ease” restrictions put in place over the virus next week.
“By ‘preferentially protecting the medically frail and those over age 60’ and letting healthy working-age Minnesotans go back to work, we can avoid extending the very real social—and eventually health—costs of a second Great Depression,” Republican Jason Lewis said.
The president’s response to the pandemic has been described as slow by some, and different Republican and Democratic governors nationwide have implemented their own strict measures in an effort to keep their state’s residents safe. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, along with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee have been among the leaders aggressively pushing anti-virus measures.
In Washington, one of Inslee’s potential Republican challengers in November complained in an interview with The Daily Beast about people not being able to shop at a Best Buy and claimed to take some offense “over all these people that are going crazy over the fact that (Trump’s) calling it a Chinese virus.”
“You need to minimize the number of businesses that are going to be affected, otherwise the economic impact here is just going to be so far off the charts that the cure might be worse than the disease,” Washington state senator Phil Fortunato said, echoing a similar statement made by the president.
The Republican described Trump’s Easter deadline as “sort of ambiguous statements.”
“It’s a guess,” Fortunato said. “I mean, nobody knows what to do. Nobody knows how this is gonna go.”