A memorable campaign ad from 2008 urged voters to ask themselves which candidate would perform better in an unexpected emergency: “It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep, but there’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing ... Your vote will decide who answers that call.” Franklin D. Roosevelt answered Pearl Harbor. John F. Kennedy answered the deployment of Soviet missiles to Cuba. How would this year’s candidates respond when confronted with an emergency?
Joe Biden has never held the top job, so voters can only speculate. But a pandemic began on Donald Trump’s watch, so no speculation is needed. Trump showed us how he did perform in a crisis: He failed. Trump is obviously not responsible for all of the COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. But the U.S. has fared much worse than the median developed country. And among wealthy nations, its per capita deaths rank in the top five. Trump can’t avoid blame for America’s subpar performance, because voters can identify specific actions he took that contributed to the country’s failures. Especially damning is that Trump couldn’t even protect himself from the disease.
Compare the White House to the NBA. Months ago, the league decided to go ahead with its season by bringing 22 teams into a “bubble” with coaches, trainers, referees, support staff, and media, despite a formidable challenge: Hundreds of young basketball players would run, pant, sweat, jostle for rebounds, huddle together in time-outs, and fill their off hours together, away from friends and family. The league developed sound protocols. Players, coaches, and others executed them competently. And the NBA went months without a positive COVID-19 test, allowing it to salvage a season worth billions of dollars while entertaining the American public.