The president’s red-capped followers were united against a socialist candidate. And they had economic winds at their backs to propel Trump toward reelection. Now everything is suddenly scrambled.
Just two weeks after President Donald Trump rallied conservatives to focus on the threat of socialism, his followers are splitting over the coronavirus pandemic.
On one side are those like Bill Mitchell, who dismiss it as nothing worse than the flu, and the drive to eradicate it as “climate change 2.0” — as in, a media-lefty mass hysteria. On the other side are pro-Trump fixtures like Trump campaign adviser Jason Miller, who have been sounding alarms on the coronavirus since January, and are calling for harsher lockdowns and social distancing.
While the MAGA movement is divided over how seriously to take the coronavirus threat or how to tackle it, the message among his supporters is increasingly unanimous: If Trump fails to control the virus, prevent its spread and prove his leadership, much less save the economy, he will lose the election and cripple his movement.
Trump’s supporters elected him because they considered him a “wartime leader” who could fight against the swamp and the elites, so they expect the same against a truly invisible threat, said War Room host and former Breitbart editor Raheem Kassam. “If for a second, people think that he doesn’t have that strength, or he doesn’t have that fortitude, then it will become a problem,” he said.
The mounting health and economic risks from the coronavirus outbreak present a monumental political challenge for a group vowing to make America great again. With just less than eight months before a presidential election, Trump’s followers face the prospect that their core message — about deconstructing the “deep state” of government workers and transforming the nation’s power structure to serve everyday Americans — could collapse in a crisis environment.
“I would think that the very pro-Trump people maybe would like to downplay this, but actually, I don’t even think that,” said Chris Buskirk, the editor-in-chief of the nationalist magazine American Greatness. “Because on this particular issue, the nationalist-MAGA crowd is all over the place. It’s totally individual.”
The divide was in stark contrast on Fox News last week, as the crisis snowballed into the public eye. One host, Tucker Carlson, delivered grave warnings about the coronavirus. He accused officials — who his conservative audience “probably voted for” — of minimizing “what is clearly a very serious problem.” Another host, Sean Hannity, called it “fear-mongering by the deep state.”
Across Trump’s world are other attempts to deflect blame — following an approach used by the president himself in recent weeks, as he attacked the Obama administration and others outside his administration for his team’s response.