Trump supporters have followed his lead in responding to the new coronavirus. Like him, they’ve shown contempt for science and public health experts. They’ve ignored recommendations for wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. They’ve refused to quarantine.
But as COVID-19 begins its march through Trumpland, its residents are beginning to question the president’s positions. As the coronavirus heads south geographically, Trump’s standing in the polls is headed south metaphorically.
Until recently, COVID-19 was primarily an urban and blue-state problem. The rural west and the Bible Belt seemed to be sheltered from harm. Residents of those places didn’t see COVID-19 in their communities, and it was largely ignored by the right-wing media they consume.
But now the coronavirus is coming to roost in their backyards. Single-day records for new cases have been seen in such blood-red states as Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas in the past week. All told, 33 states have seen increases in new cases compared this week compared to last week.
Two states, two responses
In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has long faced criticism for skipping over several steps in the CDC’s recommended reopening guidelines. He made global headlines for reopening public beaches during spring break. Not only did his state report a record number of new cases this week, but also record hospitalizations.
Miami-Dade County recorded a 33.5 percent positivity rate on July 8. During the most recent two-week period, hospitalizations in Miami-Dade grew by 76 percent and the use of ventilators rose by 124 percent.
On July 9, 435 patients were admitted to hospitals in the state, the largest one-day increase since the first cases hit Florida.
From June 5 to July 6, Florida reported 1,168 deaths.
But De Santis, who’s running for re-election on Trump’s coattails, refuses to go back a couple of steps in his re-opening plan and start over, as recommended by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the CDC’s infectious disease program. Santini fears losing Trump’s support, which he believes secured his narrow 2018 victory. In fact, he’s joined with Trump in downplaying the resurgence of the coronavirus.
But high-ranking Republicans are announcing that, due to the growing intensity of the pandemic in Florida, they won’t attend the Republican National Convention in Jacksonville in late August. It’s hard for De Santis and Trump to downplay convincingly an outbreak that’s scaring members of their own party away from its major event.
Other Republican governors in emerging hotspots are reacting with more regard for their citizens than their politics. On July 10, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott extended his disaster declaration for the entire state in response to its soaring number of new cases.
"Extending this Disaster Declaration helps ensure that Texas has the resources and flexibility needed to effectively respond to COVID-19," Abbott said in a statement. "To further mitigate the spread of the virus and overcome this challenge, Texans should continue to do their part by wearing a mask, social distancing, and staying home if possible."
Houston and the Rio Grande Valley are the worst hit parts of the state. Aggressive testing efforts there have been hampered by extreme heat.
Houston hospitals, particularly their ICU units, are operating at full capacity — and, in some cases, beyond it. Hundreds of COVID-19 patients are being kept in emergency rooms as hospitals struggle to open ICU beds, according to NBC News and ProPublica.
On July 9, 3,812 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in the Houston area, including more than 1,000 in intensive care units, which is the highest number since the pandemic began.
“Houston officials fear the situation could become a replay of what happened in New York City in March and April, when thousands of people died as hospitals struggled to keep up with the surge of patients, but without the same level of government intervention to stem the tide,” NBC News reported.
In the State of New York, meanwhile, the numbers of new COVID cases is declining.
Texas has reported a total of 2,700 deaths. The combined number of COVID-19-related deaths recorded in Texas and Florida over just the past month exceeds the total number of hurricane-related deaths in the entire nation over the past 20 years.
Oklahoma, Texas’ neighbor to the north, is also experiencing a surge, and it’s partly tied to Trump’s indoor campaign rally on June 20 in Tulsa. Against the advice of health officials and local Republican leaders, more than 6,000 mostly unmasked people gathered there for Trump’s campaign launch. But all they got besides COVID-19 was the opportunity to purchase Trump campaign merchandise and listen to a speech that spent 1,798 words on his trouble drinking a cup of water and walking down a long ramp from the stage at West Point on June 13 after addressing its 2020 graduation class.
Cases of COVID-19 began appearing in Tulsa before the commander-in-chief began to speak. Eight members of his advance team, including two secret service agents, tested positive for the coronavirus and were forced to spend 14 days quarantined in Tulsa. Herman Cain, one of Trump’s surrogates, also tested positive after sitting in the audience.
Since then, COVID-19 cases in the Tulsa area and the State of Oklahoma have exploded. On July 9, Tulsa County reported a record 261 new cases. Oklahoma reported a record one-day total of 603 new cases, bringing the number of infected people in the state to 18,500. Hospitalizations also were climbing, and the state’s death toll reached over 410.
Tulsa Health Department director Dr. Bruce Dart linked the rise to recent large events in the area, including Trump’s. “We knew we had several large events a little over two weeks ago, which is about right, so I guess we just connect the dots,” Dart said, as reported by Democracy Now!.
Despite the growing pandemic in Trumpland, it might take a lot more misery to unclench the firm hold he has over Bible Belt and Confederate supporters. Cult-like in their devotion, they’ve gone great lengths to show it. A number of them have attacked — and even shot — people who’ve asked them to wear masks in places of business. They’ve refused to follow shelter-in-place orders, claiming that their freedom of speech and movement is immutable to germs as well as health care rules.
But cracks are beginning to emerge as Trump continues to model the destructive behavior that’s fueling the virus’ growth. In pretending that COVID-19 is not nearly as bad as the “fake news” media want people to believe, Trump is promoting denial to people who are now living amid the truth. In refusing to wear personal protective equipment or to follow social distancing guidelines, he’s rejecting prevention strategies to people who now see that they’re needed.
Trump’s cult-like followers still show their unity with him by following his lead and flouting protective measures, but Independents, who account for 40 percent of the vote, are growing weary of the dumb show. Even Trump’s Republican support is softening.
According to a July 8-July 9 ABC/Ipsos poll, 67 percent of Americans surveyed disapproved of Trump’s handling of the coronavirus. That’s up 17 points since the same pollster conducted a survey on the subject in mid-June.
At the same time, Trump’s approval rating on the issue dropped from 41 percent in the mid-June poll to 33 percent in the recent ABC/Ipsos poll. Other polls have shown similar findings regarding his management of the pandemic.
Polls also have shown a softening of overall support from Republicans and Independents. Trump scores decreasing support not only on COVID, but also on race relations and his ability to unify the country.
Trump’s declining popularity is just beginning. It will continue to fall while his supporters, along with their families and their friends, are becoming sick and dying.
Having made the pandemic a political issue, Trump will now face the political consequences of how he handled it.