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Gross Incompetence Matters


A popular Savvy take of 2016 and 2017 was that Trump was no worse than the typical Republican and maybe even better, because any Republican would pursue similar ends and Trump might be worse at it. And, yes, if any Republican was president you would have Leonard Leo picking all the judges and the same tax cuts. But presidents also have to advantage and administrate stuff, sometimes in times of unexpected crisis, and having a ludicrously unqualified buffoon as president really can get a lot of people killed:

But as my colleague Jen Kirby has written, experts are deeply skeptical that travel restrictions are a particularly high-value measure at this point. And even if Trump’s enthusiasm for them is not wrong per se, it’s clear that his obsession with the concept of an external threat has had catastrophic consequences for the United States. Due to his strong orientation in favor of travel bans, Trump was early in restricting travel from China — a measure that he said would prevent the virus from entering the United States. It obviously failed at that goal, but Trump insists at every opportunity on claiming and receiving credit for having been ahead of the coronavirus curve.

The problem is that while these measures probably were successful at helping the United States buy time, Trump didn’t do anything with the time.

And on the whole range of issues currently confronting the country — from economic stimulus to aiding people who are sick to advising state and local governments on what precautions to take to bolstering public health capacity — the administration did nothing at all throughout January and February.

It’s understandable that the president hoped the travel restrictions would work. But he knew perfectly well that he hadn’t shut off all travel to the United States (which would have been economically ruinous) and thus that it was possible border control would fail. Experts were nearly unanimous in their judgment that travel restrictions would not work, and Trump not only overruled their advice to put restrictions in place, he ignored their warnings and did nothing to create any kind of fallback plan. And since he’s stubborn and vainglorious, he continues to insist that the moral of this whole story is that the experts were wrong and he was right so we should bank on further travel restrictions to save us. It’s absurd.

And let’s be clear that this is the fault of Senate Republicans, who could have gotten the exact same policies from a less inept and corrupt president, but chose not to:

But the calculation Republicans have made is that as long as Trump staffs the bowels of the administrative state with Heritage Foundation guys and fills the judiciary with Federalist Society picks, they shouldn’t ask any tough questions about his honesty, corruption, temperament, basic fitness for office, or preferred management style. It was a calculation that until recently seemed to be paying off reasonably well from the standpoint of right-wing ideologues.

Trump allegedly inappropriately leveraged duly appropriated foreign aid money to pressure the Ukrainian government into launching a bogus investigation of Joe Biden’s family. But when it all came to light, the aid money to Kyiv flowed, Trump was shielded from accountability for his misconduct, and now Senate Republicans are set to do the bogus investigation themselves rather than make Ukraine do it for them. Business-friendly regulators are in place throughout the government, taxes on the rich have fallen, the social safety net is getting stingier, and conservatives are taking over the courts.

In exchange, the country lacks an experienced White House chief of staff to run the executive branch competently. The president’s wildly unqualified son-in-law is playing a key role in orchestrating the coronavirus response. His top economic adviser is a cable news celebrity with a demonstrated record of poor judgment. And the only real solution — a new leader at the top — is still months away from being possible.

The contrast with the proposals of the leading Democratic candidates is striking. But I can’t really judge them until I know more about their compliance with email server management best practices.

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