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Tale of two leaders: One outlines coronavirus preparations, the other shrugs off the danger | COMMENTARY

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, along with Vice President Mike Pence, left, and members of the Coronavirus Task Force, at the White House in Washington D.C., on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020.
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, along with Vice President Mike Pence, left, and members of the Coronavirus Task Force, at the White House in Washington D.C., on Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2020.(Yuri Gripas/Abaca Press/TNS)

This past week, Gov. Larry Hogan demonstrated how to comfort people worried about the threat of a global pandemic. In a Thursday afternoon news conference at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency in Reisterstown, Governor Hogan calmly revealed that there are suspected cases now in Maryland (although none has yet tested positive), and that he was meeting daily with health officials, his cabinet and others to monitor the situation. He said that while the risk to Maryland was generally regarded as low, his cabinet was preparing for the worst and that could mean everything from school closings to the cancellation of mass gatherings. “Our state is taking every precaution when it comes to the coronavirus,” the governor told reporters.

Now, compare that to President Donald Trump’s rambling midweek news conference on the subject one day earlier during which he attempted to soft-pedal the outbreak and the risk posed to this country. It was an unconvincing denial given that he contradicted the federal government’s actual experts, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As early as Tuesday, top doctors said that it’s “inevitable” that the virus will spread within the United States. That Mr. Trump also chose to appoint Vice President Mike Pence to lead the government’s response to coronavirus surely didn’t help the administration’s already-strained credibility. Mr. Pence’s so-called “talent” for public health includes his widely-panned response to an Indiana HIV outbreak when he was governor.

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Governor Hogan knows what people want to hear in an emergency. President Trump, in contrast, sees the same circumstances only through the prism of political self-interest. Attacks by Democrats like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi over the administration’s slow reaction to the coronavirus outbreak and the recent tumble of the stock markets is his chief concern, not emergency preparedness. How do we know this? We can read Twitter. “Low Ratings Fake News MSDNC (Comcast) & @CNN are doing everything possible to make the Caronavirus [sic] look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible. Likewise their incompetent Do Nothing Democrat comrades are all talk, no action. USA in great shape!” the denier-in-chief wrote Wednesday.

We hope the coronavirus doesn’t continue to spread and turn into a global pandemic. But what’s especially scary is to imagine that this president is calling the shots when it comes to public health. President Trump lies. He lies about big things and small things. His false or misleading statement count in office is somewhere north of 16,241, according to The Washington Post. This is exactly the wrong person to be talking to anyone about a deadly outbreak. The government’s credibility is critically important. Please, Mr. President, step aside and let the real experts take the lead. Just about any soul in the deepest of the deep state offices of the CDC or NIH would be more trustworthy and more confidence-building right now.

This isn’t a Democratic versus Republican thing (or a governor versus president, for that matter), it’s an Americans-need-an-expert thing. The coronavirus can’t be wiped out by calling it a name. What Americans have a right to expect is to know the White House is preparing for the worst, too. Just ask Governor Hogan and his staff, who are taking pains not only to stay in touch with the CDC but to brief legislators and local health officials on exactly what they know. People don’t want salesmanship, they want to see salt trucks lined up on the highway when there’s even a modest forecast of snow.

Small wonder that Wall Street, after witnessing Wednesday’s presidential soft-pedal, went back to work Thursday thoroughly unconvinced. As a result, U.S. and foreign stock prices took another nose dive, continuing the worst streak since the Great Recession, and it continued on through Friday. CNN didn’t cause that. This isn’t a messaging problem, it’s a legitimate health threat. And when there’s a potential medical emergency, you want the unvarnished truth. That’s what Mr. Hogan delivered. That’s what all Americans have a right to expect.

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