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Former Washington Journalist
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Donald Trump’s attitude toward reopening the nation’s economy from its coronavirus-induced deep freeze has been surprisingly inconsistent because he’s basing his coming re-election bid on “Jekyll and Hyde” populist campaign, according to journalist and CNN host Fareed Zakaria.
Trump had been pushing to loosen the extreme lockdown conditions needed to slow the spread of the deadly novel coronavirus, but which have also shuttered much of the US economy, plunging it into depression-level unemployment.
Indeed, Trump went as far as stoking protests across the country via Twitter, telling demonstrators to “liberate” their states.
However, when Georgia Gov Brian Kemp (R) complied, and followed through with opening up much of his state, Trump publicly castigated Kemp for the move.
“Poor Brian Kemp, he obviously didn’t get the memo. When the governor on Georgia announced on Monday that he would begin opening up his state’s economy, he must have assumed President Trump would lavish him with praise. Just days earlier the president said publicly the country was starting our life again and indicated some states were ready to open up. On Wednesday, Trump tweeted states are safely coming back. Our country is starting to open for business again. And yet, hours after that tweet, at his daily press conference, the president announced that he disagreed strongly with Kemp’s decision. Welcome to Donald Trump’s reelection strategy, where he is both the government and the fiery opposition to that government,” Zakaria said. “Populism has always fundamentally been a protest movement of outsiders railing against a corrupt elite that runs the country.
“Right wing populism makes a distinction between the real people and the others who tend to be foreigners, immigrants, blacks, Jews and other minorities,” Zakaria added. “This strategy works well out of government. One you’re inside, you face a challenge. Politicians who win elections usually try to broaden their base and unify the nation. But populism depends on division and dissatisfaction.
“In addition in times of genuine emergency, people sober up. Across the world, many populist parties that frivolously attack the establishment have struggled to make their voices heard. In a pandemic, it turns out many people want their governments to take an active stance, preferably based on advice from experts.
“Trump’s solution is to play insider and outsider simultaneously,” he added. “One day he announces a careful plan devised by public health officials that is a step by step opening up, the next day he sides with street protesters against governors who are following those very guidelines. It’s a complicated dance.
“You can watch the two Trumps at his press conferences. He begins the session as President Trump making the day’s official pronouncements, reading in a dreary monotone from a script he doesn’t appear to have looked at before. And then from time to time, Donald Trump, the populist icon, suddenly pops up: Commenting on his own script,” Zakaria continued.
“The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde routine continues throughout the briefing as his own health officials take the podium to make a substantive point, Trump will jump in to say something that is at odds with the message they’re trying to convey. Trump is worrying this dance may not be enough to win him re-election,” Zakaria said. “The president has surely noticed his approval atings remain roughly where they were before the pandemic which is astonishing given that crises usually boost presidential approval enormously. So he has doubled down on the attack strategy against the usual scapegoats, the media and what has become an absurd daily routine as well as blue state governors, liberal cities, international organizations, and now, of course, most pointedly China. He’s also returning to his favorite target, immigrants.
“The president’s ban on immigrants seeking green cards from coming into the country for 60 days is strange since the U.S. has already largely halted immigration. But it’s not really a policy, it is a political symbol. A reminder to Trump’s base that they can always count on him,” Zakaria said. “There is, of course, another path. Donald Trump could have used the crisis to rally the nation around a common foe. He could have provided calm, sensible leadership, stayed on message with his own health officials, and fostered unity rather than division.
“That’s the approach of German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who now has a 79 percent approval rating. It’s the strategy of [French President] Emmanuel Macron who has moved up 10 points in his very polarized country,” Zakaria added. “It turns out President Trump only knows one dance, call it the populism hustle. And he seems uninterested in learning any other.
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