DANIEL VAUGHAN: Trump vs. Cuomo, or what matters in a pandemic?

Throughout 2020, the national media elevated New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) as the ideal politician to challenge then-President Donald Trump on how to correctly handle the COVID-19 pandemic. The media’s comparisons of the two showed how much the press values rhetorical influence over real leadership decisions and actions.

In the moment, those comparisons made for great theater. The Trump administration routinely failed to produce rhetorical leadership in the middle of the pandemic.

You can blame part of that on public health experts who chose to peddle “noble lies” to the public instead of transparency and directness. But the Trump administration bears blame here, too, for a long list of gaffes and nonsensical news conferences that no one took seriously.

And in normal political dust-ups, rhetoric can matter more. It’s crucial in a crisis, too, no doubt. But in a pandemic, if you produce rhetoric, but no policy wins for the public, you’ve failed. You can still beat an outbreak with lousy communication skills if you deliver solutions.

That’s the contrast we have now. The Trump administration produced solutions to end the pandemic, but they failed rhetorically. Trump’s numerous gaffes, saying the public health crisis would be over in weeks or months, and his refusal to rein in even the meandering and shifting statements of Dr. Anthony Fauci and others, produced nonstop confusion.

In comparison, Cuomo’s press conferences were great! In a column on Cuomo’s downfall, Peggy Noonan writes in the Wall Street Journal: “Those briefings were spectacular. Someone had to seem in charge, someone had to rouse and rally. He deserved the stupid Emmy.”

She’s right. Cuomo performed. He had to act and pretend to be something he wasn’t because his actions led to the direct deaths of the most vulnerable: those living in nursing homes. According to a whistleblower who spoke with the Washington Examiner, Cuomo also sent COVID-19 positive patients into group homes for developmentally challenged adults, resulting in even more deaths.

Cuomo getting an Emmy is apt because he was an actor, pretending to be the benevolent savior in a pandemic. In reality, Cuomo worsened the situation and failed at every phase.

Those daily press conferences, while excellent performances, didn’t produce a single solution. Cuomo had no answers. He did what he does best: perform for the television cameras, relying on his old political pedigree as the son of a former governor and a man who married into political royalty for Democrats.

Trump did none of those things and didn’t get even the slightest benefit of the doubt from the national press. But as a Republican, that comes with the territory. You have to know in that job that the press will never treat you fairly, so you have to be twice as good, both in results and rhetoric. The media used Trump’s failures in rhetoric to attack the policies.

But on actual policy, Trump was as near to a flawless success as you can get in this pandemic, and closer than any other global leader by a mile. It’s simply an objective fact at this point that Trump’s COVID-19 response plan and Operation Warp Speed was and is an ongoing miracle in both public policy and medical advancements.

Here’s how you know Trump’s plan was a success: Joe Biden has made no changes to it. He’s helped out at the margins, like authorizing the Defense Production Act for various vaccine supplies. Still, those actions haven’t made much difference. So far, the only real change that’s been made, as described by the Wall Street Journal:

The Biden administration this month said it used the act to provide $105 million in funding to help Merck & Co. make doses of J&J’s Covid-19 vaccine and to expedite materials used in its production.

In reality, we’re watching Trump’s Operation Warp Speed build into a tsunami of vaccinations that is the envy of the modern world. The Wall Street Journal reports that from February to March, the vaccine supply in the U.S. has tripled.

Building off the winter’s manufacturing plans, Pfizer developed and has produced more “high-speed vial-filling lines” in its U.S. manufacturing plants, the Journal adds. These incredible lines can “fill up to 575 vials a minute.”

Pfizer’s is a two-dose vaccine system, which means that Pfizer produces enough to full-vaccinate nearly 300 people per minute. In the time it takes you to read this column, more than 1,000 people could be fully vaccinated by one of those lines.

“We’re not done by any means,” Pfizer said. “There’s no doubt we’ll blow through 13 million a week and go much higher in the very near future.”

The irony in all this is that Trump got attacked for being nothing more than a reality TV show star, but his television performances for the public on the pandemic were an abjective disaster. Meanwhile, the only successful thing Cuomo has done is act like a competent governor on TV, while being a walking disaster for his citizens and being credibly accused of sexual assault and harassment.

When Moncef Slaoui, the former head of Operation Warp Speed, said on the Sunday political shows that the Trump administration was responsible for “90%” of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan so far, he was right. Cuomo and his rhetoric, on the other hand, have had very few actual successes in containing the virus.

But they’re perceived differently because of rhetoric. That’s primarily due to the press, which values speeches and performing over solutions. However, if you’d like the pandemic to end, you need answers, not actors in front of a camera.

Fortunately, we got solutions before changing presidents.

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