‘Over­ride’ threat:

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY MICHAEL SCHERER AND ASH­LEY PARKER michael.scherer@wash­post.com ash­ley.parker@wash­post.com Mike De­bo­nis and Anne Gearan con­tributed to this re­port.

Trump de­mands gov­er­nors let churches re­open.

Pres­i­dent Trump has been de­liv­er­ing his lat­est ral­ly­ing cry in all-caps, a self-de­scribed “wartime pres­i­dent” de­fi­antly thumb­ing his nose at the cau­tions of gov­er­nors and sci­en­tists wary of a vi­ral resur­gence if the coun­try re­turns too quickly to nor­mal.

“RE­OPEN THE COUN­TRY!” he tweeted this week. “TRAN­SI­TION TO GREAT­NESS.”

The ex­hor­ta­tions fol­low a po­lit­i­cal strat­egy his ad­vis­ers hope can help frame the com­ing elec­tion sea­son: A pres­i­dent who had hoped to run on his eco­nomic record as a job cre­ator might still be able to re­claim the brand de­spite the his­toric eco­nomic col­lapse by paint­ing Democrats as op­po­nents of an eco­nomic res­ur­rec­tion.

But for the mo­ment, Democrats say they are not wor­ried about the of­fen­sive — and con­vinced in­stead that it will back­fire. From the cam­paign of pre­sump­tive Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Joe Bi­den down to lo­cal House races, op­er­a­tives and law­mak­ers point to new public and pri­vate polling to ar­gue that Trump is out of step with a na­tion wor­ried about a new wave of coro­n­avirus out­breaks and a sec­ond eco­nomic freeze.

“There is no doubt that peo­ple are anx­ious to get back to work, but what you see from Vice Pres­i­dent Bi­den’s cam­paign is just much more re­al­is­tic,” said Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA.).

The re­sult is a par­ti­san mes­sag­ing clash that is likely to last for months, as the coun­try un­der­goes what ap­pears to be a grad­ual re­lease from the par­a­lyz­ing so­cial dis­tanc­ing poli­cies Trump em­braced with the na­tion’s gov­er­nors over 45 days this spring. Democrats are po­si­tion­ing them­selves as the party of grad­ual cau­tion and con­cern for health, while Trump claims the space of bold ac­tion and eco­nomic bullish­ness.

The con­trast can be seen daily on what passes for the cam­paign trail these days. Trump has re­turned to trav­el­ing the coun­try on Air Force One, while re­fus­ing to wear a mask, as Bi­den claims to be quite con­tent with cam­paign­ing from his Delaware home, where he has been spot­ted wear­ing a mask even in­side. And as Trump de­mands that his party move for­ward with a grand nom­i­nat­ing con­ven­tion of thou­sands in North Carolina, Democrats are in­creas­ingly sug­gest­ing that a vir­tual meet­ing would be bet­ter than an arena show in Wis­con­sin.

Trump cheers on un­masked pro­test­ers rail­ing against so­cial dis­tanc­ing, urges his ad­vis­ers to get him back to hold­ing mass ral­lies and even shared a video tes­ti­mo­nial of a Bos­ton busi­ness­man say­ing he would rather get sick than keep his busi­ness closed. He has gone so far as to ac­cuse Democrats of in­ten­tion­ally un­der­min­ing the econ­omy to win in Novem­ber.

“The Democrats are mov­ing slowly, all over the USA, for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses,” Trump tweeted.

White House of­fi­cials say Democrats could pay a po­lit­i­cal price if they come to be seen as ob­struc­tion­ist scolds amid the ef­fort to re­open the coun­try. Trump has re­peat­edly crit­i­cized Michi­gan for its han­dling of the virus — an at­tack that seems driven by a par­tic­u­lar an­i­mus for its Demo­cratic gov­er­nor, Gretchen Whit­mer. Trump vis­ited the state Thurs­day to tour a Ford plant that is man­u­fac­tur­ing ven­ti­la­tors.

“In­stead of work­ing to re­open the na­tion, Democrats are pre­oc­cu­pied with ap­peas­ing their left­ist base,” Trump cam­paign spokesman Ken Far­naso said in an email state­ment. “In fact, Pres­i­dent Trump has led Amer­ica to its great­est heights and is the only per­son equipped to do it again.”

The Demo­cratic con­fi­dence that this will fail is an­chored in ex­ten­sive sur­veys that sug­gest the fight over open­ing more quickly is largely tak­ing place within the Repub­li­can base, with Democrats and in­de­pen­dents largely united in their con­vic­tion that the only way to re­cover eco­nom­i­cally is to fo­cus first on pre­vent­ing more out­breaks of dis­ease.

A re­cent Quin­nip­iac Univer­sity na­tional poll found that 75 per­cent of vot­ers say the coun­try “should re­open slowly, even if it makes the econ­omy worse,” rather than “re­open quickly, even if it makes the spread of the coro­n­avirus worse.” Only 21 per­cent of in­de­pen­dents and 4 per­cent of Democrats said they wanted a quicker re­open­ing. The same poll found Bi­den with a 16-point ad­van­tage in his han­dling of the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, while he and Trump were ef­fec­tively tied in their han­dling of the econ­omy.

“The public is very clearly in a po­si­tion where they of course want things to open, but they are very con­cerned about a sec­ond wave and they are very con­cerned about things that will pro­long the cri­sis,” said Nick Goure­vitch, a Demo­cratic poll­ster who does re­search for Nav­i­ga­tor Re­search, a con­sor­tium of lib­eral groups that seeks to in­form party strat­egy. “The gam­bit could only work for Trump if there is no sec­ond wave and there is no reper­cus­sion for push­ing things open too quickly.”

On Capi­tol Hill, Demo­cratic law­mak­ers have uni­fied around the idea that the best path to eco­nomic re­vival is lis­ten­ing to health ex­perts.

“The idea that we can achieve eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment without a sci­ence-based ap­proach is a fan­tasy,” said Sen. Brian Schatz (DHawaii). “Ev­ery­body un­der­stands we can’t stay closed for­ever. The ques­tion is, can we do it based on the whims of a pres­i­dent who doesn’t know what he’s talk­ing about or based on the guid­ance from the peo­ple who know what they’re talk­ing about?”

Kris­ten Soltis An­der­son, a Repub­li­can poll­ster and co-founder of Ech­e­lon In­sights, has also found in­di­ca­tions that the White House may be over­es­ti­mat­ing the public’s ea­ger­ness to re­turn to daily life — at least when weighed against the po­ten­tial risks.

“If lead­ers ap­pear overea­ger to go back to nor­mal op­er­a­tions be­fore Amer­i­cans feel con­fi­dent that we can do so safely, those groups who are at par­tic­u­lar risk of the health con­se­quences — se­niors — may be none too thrilled with that di­rec­tion,” An­der­son wrote in an email.

Yet in­side the White House, many top ad­vis­ers ar­gue that al­though Trump de­serves praise for any eco­nomic re­cov­ery, he should not be held ac­count­able for new virus out­breaks as the coun­try starts to re­open. Any fault, they say, likely rests with the na­tion’s gov­er­nors.

“The gov­er­nors mostly yelled when they thought that the pres­i­dent was rob­bing them of their re­spon­si­bil­ity to make the fi­nal de­ci­sion on how and when to re­open,” said Kellyanne Con­way, a coun­selor to the pres­i­dent. “This is the gov­er­nors’ fi­nal de­ci­sion, for which they bear re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

She added: “The pres­i­dent has de­ployed money, per­son­nel, sup­plies and other re­sources to each state, has not com­pelled any one state to re­open, yet he is pleased that all 50 states now have some sort of re­open­ing plan.”

The pres­i­dent’s fo­cus on the econ­omy re­flects a grow­ing sen­ti­ment among his top ad­vis­ers that the na­tion is trend­ing to­ward re­open­ing and Amer­i­cans sim­ply can­not stay at home much longer if the econ­omy is to avoid “per­ma­nent dam­age,” as Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steven Mnuchin tes­ti­fied be­fore Congress on Tues­day.

“In Oc­to­ber, if the econ­omy is be­gin­ning to move for­ward and we have ther­a­pies in place that are ef­fec­tive and there’s a vac­cine on the hori­zon, I think the pres­i­dent will be in good shape re­gard­ing the pol­i­tics of the virus,” said Sen. Lind­sey O. Gra­ham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally.

A key goal of the White House, said a se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, is to “bring down the tem­per­a­ture” of the na­tion and con­vince the public that it is safe to re­turn to daily life, while fol­low­ing cer­tain guide­lines for re­open­ing. This of­fi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss in­ter­nal talks, noted that Trump’s team un­der­stands there may be some out­breaks as part of the process, but be­lieves the ad­min­is­tra­tion is now bet­ter equipped to han­dle such flare-ups.

White House aides have also ar­gued that Trump’s rhetoric about faster re­open­ing is not dis­cor­dant with cur­rent polling.

“Pres­i­dent Trump wants the coun­try to re­open, but he wants it to re­open in a rea­son­able, ra­tio­nal, re­spon­si­ble way,” White House spokesman Ho­gan Gi­d­ley said. “And for a ma­jor­ity of the coun­try, it’s time to be­gin to do that.”

The Bi­den cam­paign re­mains fo­cused on blam­ing Trump for the depth of the crises, call­ing for a more mus­cu­lar fed­eral test­ing in­fra­struc­ture and pro­vid­ing new sup­port to re­build the econ­omy. His top ad­vis­ers are op­er­at­ing on the as­sump­tion that Trump’s tac­tics — driv­ing daily con­flict — will per­form less well in his sec­ond race for the White House.

“In 2016, Don­ald Trump owned the rhetoric. In 2020, he owns the re­al­ity,” said Jake Sul­li­van, a top pol­icy ad­viser for Hil­lary Clin­ton who now works in a sim­i­lar role for Bi­den. “In 2016, slo­gans like ‘Re­open’ or ‘ Tran­si­tion to Great­ness’ were un­en­cum­bered by any ac­count­abil­ity and re­al­ity. In 2020, he is the pres­i­dent.”

In the states, how­ever, there are di­min­ish­ing par­ti­san dif­fer­ences in how lead­ers are han­dling the re­open­ing, with many mov­ing faster in ar­eas where there has been less in­fec­tion, as fed­eral health of­fi­cials have rec­om­mended.

“A lot of states have been do­ing ex­actly what we asked them to: find, test, con­tact trace and con­tain,” Deb­o­rah Birx, the White House coro­n­avirus re­sponse co­or­di­na­tor, said in a brief­ing Tues­day with re­porters.

For now, the public is em­brac­ing a more cau­tious ap­proach. In Wis­con­sin, a piv­otal bat­tle­ground state, a Mar­quette Univer­sity Law School poll this month found just 31 per­cent of vot­ers sup­ported re­cent demon­stra­tions call­ing for quicker re­open­ing, while 63 per­cent op­posed them. More than half of Repub­li­cans, how­ever, sup­ported the demon­stra­tions.

“Wis­con­sinites are as ea­ger as any­one to re­open,” said Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-wis.), a po­ten­tial vice pres­i­den­tial pick for Bi­den. “We just know we have to do it safely. The par­ti­san na­ture of Trump’s state­ments is wear­ing very thin.”


Pres­i­dent Trump talks to re­porters at the White House on Thurs­day be­fore de­part­ing for Michi­gan to visit a man­u­fac­tur­ing plant. He has clashed with some gov­er­nors over re­open­ing the econ­omy.

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