Trump's 'always hit back' ethos doesn't rest, even during a global pandemic

President Trump, who has made vindictiveness a trademark of both his personal style and his presidency, has shown in recent days that he has no intentions of changing in the face of the COVID-19 epidemic.

Trump has taken advantage of the worldwide pandemic to pursue his grudge against Sen. Mitt Romney, an on-again, off-again political rival who was the only Republican in the U.S. Senate to vote to convict Trump at his impeachment trial. When he learned that Romney, 73, was self-quarantining due to possible exposure to the coronavirus, Trump remarked sarcastically, “Gee, that’s too bad.” After Romney announced he had tested negative for the virus, Trump piled on the sarcasm Tuesday in a tweet.

Trump was even more gleeful in announcing that a judge had rejected a plea by lawyer Michael Avenatti to be released from prison due to the risk of contracting COVID-19. Avenatti, who was convicted in an extortion scheme unrelated to politics, represented porn actress Stormy Daniels in a suit seeking to free her from a nondisclosure agreement with Trump over her relationship with him. The $130,000 payment she received via Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen was a key piece of evidence in Cohen’s trial in 2018 that ended in a prison sentence for tax and bank fraud.

In his tweet, Trump looked to rub salt in Avenatti’s wounds.

Trump’s delight in verbally tormenting and mocking his enemies is long-standing, but also clashes with the sober tone he has sporadically tried to project at White House briefings at a time when the U.S. economy has ground to a halt, more than 60,000 Americans have been infected with COVID-19 and more than 800 have died.

But it seems not to have affected his popularity. A Gallup poll released Monday, found Trump had the highest approval rating of his presidency at 49 percent, and that 60 percent approved of his handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

While insisting he was doing all he could to assist states that have been hit hard by the pandemic, the president hasn’t spared governors of (mostly Democratic) states whom he considers ungrateful, overly demanding or inadequately obsequious. After referring to Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee as a “snake” for his criticism of the administration’s coronavirus response, Trump has left him off the short list of governors he invokes at his press briefings. Although he has had occasional kind words for California Gov. Gavin Newsom and New York’s Andrew Cuomo, he has also attacked them, as states wrestle with shortages of equipment and supplies that threaten to overwhelm their hospital systems.

“He had a choice,” Trump said of Cuomo, who was seeking an emergency allocation of ventilators for patients unable to breathe on their own. “He refused to order 15,000 ventilators.”

“It’s a two-way street,” Trump said of federal assistance to states during the coronavirus crisis. “They have to treat us well too.”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Melania Trump said of her husband, “When you attack Donald, he will punch back 10 times harder.”

That actually signified a mellowing of Trump from four years earlier, when he estimated his own retaliatory response at “100x more.”

In a Tuesday op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, Bard College professor Walter Russell Mead made the case that Trump’s attacking style is exactly what voters love about him.

“One reason Mr. Trump’s opponents have had such a hard time damaging his connection with voters is that they still don’t understand why so many Americans want a wrecking-ball presidency,” Mead wrote.

The poll numbers seem to back up Mead’s observation, at least so far, with fewer than 1,000 deaths in the U.S. from coronavirus. If he’s right that “many Americans want a wrecking-ball presidency,” they have one now, and it may say as much about the nation as it does about its president.

Cover thumbnail photo: Michael Avenatti, Sen. Mitt Romney and President Trump. (Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: AP (3), Getty Images)


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