Did impeachment distract President Trump from the looming threat of the COVID-19 pandemic? That’s the story conservative pundits and pols have been trying to sell for over a month now. Presidential pal Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) joined the chorus last week, though in Graham’s version, it’s “Democrats and the media” who lost focus. (No doubt Graham didn’t want to get crosswise with Trump, who insists his pandemic response has been aces.)
The problem with the distraction narrative is the total lack of evidence for it. It’s a bad argument, and, in most cases, badly made.
Trump‐friendly Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen was first out of the gate, with a March 23 piece titled, “Let’s be honest. Impeachment hurt Trump’s response to coronavirus.” In it, Olsen can’t seem to avoid stepping on his own points, sometimes in consecutive sentences. “Despite the near certainty that Republicans would not vote to convict the president,” he writes, the Democrats and the press forged ahead; “As a result, the White House was focused on addressing this threat to its survival.” Wait, what?
Anyway, Olsen continues, “it is extraordinarily difficult for politicians to foresee an event unprecedented in modern times,” and no Western democracy did much better than the United States. OK, but then why would we expect a distraction‐free Donald Trump—if such a thing were possible—to have mounted a crack response?