Meanwhile, instead of listening to his own public health experts,
the president was talking and tweeting like a man more
concerned about boosting the stock market or his reelection plans.
America’s governors took a different approach. In early February,
we descended on Washington for the annual winter meeting of the
National Governors Association. As chairman, I had worked closely
with the staff for months assembling the agenda, including a
private, governors-only briefing at our hotel, the Marriott
Marquis, to address the growing viral threat. We brought in
Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy
and Infectious Diseases, who was already widely admired but whose
awesome knowledge and straight-talking style hadn’t yet made him a
national rock star; CDC head Robert Redfield; Ken Cuccinelli, the
acting deputy secretary of homeland security; Jay Butler, the
CDC’s deputy director for infectious diseases; and Robert Kadlec,
assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the
Department of Health and Human Services.
They hit us with detailed presentations and the unfiltered truth,
as well as it was known then. I remember hearing many dire claims:
“This could be catastrophic.… The death toll could be
significant.… Much more contagious than SARS.… Testing will be
crucial.… You have to follow the science — that’s where the
It was jarring, the huge contrast between the experts’ warnings
and the president’s public dismissals. Weren’t these the people
the White House was consulting about the virus? What made the
briefing even more chilling was its clear, factual tone. It was a
harrowing warning of an imminent national threat, and we took it
seriously — or at least most of us did. It was enough to convince
almost all the governors that this epidemic was going to be worse
than most people realized.
In theory it shouldn’t, but in practice it matters that Hogan is not just a Republican governor, but a popular one. Hogan’s scathing condemnation of the president’s response to the COVID-19 crisis puts the lie to the notion that the fundamental problem with Trump and his remaining supporters is about the left/right political divide. It’s about the science/anti-science divide, deferring to expertise vs. defiant know-nothing-ism as a political stance. There is nothing conservative or liberal about combating a pandemic.