President Trump
Credit: The White House/Twitter

Rick Wilson isn’t always careful to be meticulously fair to the president. For example, this goes too far:

Sunday, the president said that 100,000 deaths would be a great win. Only in the world of Trumpian dumbfuckery could anyone brighter than a toaster oven think 100,000 avoidable deaths is a win. That’s like saying, “Hey, honey, I went to the strip club, caught an STD, knocked up a stripper named Destynee, and got a second mortgage to bail her meth tweaker boyfriend out of jail… but at least I didn’t touch the kids’ college fund.”

President Trump could have done everything right, and there would still have been a lot of people in this country who died from COVID-19. It’s wrong to suggest that every death is an excess death. Yet, when the final tally is determined, we know that the body count will be much higher than it should have been. The only question is how many zeroes we’ll have to put on that number. Will we measure it in the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions?

During a February 26 press conference in the White House, President Trump told us that “we have a total of 15 [cases of COVID-19 in this country]…and they’re getting better, too… we have a total of 15 people, and they’re in a process of recovering, with some already having fully recovered.”

His point was that there was nothing to be concerned about. The problem was contained. This was the White House line at the time. A day earlier, Trump’s chief economic adviser Lawrence Kudlow went on television and said, “We have contained this. I won’t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight.” He added, “I don’t think it’s going to be an economic tragedy at all.”

If they didn’t know that they were wrong, it could only be because they refused to listen to their own experts when they explained the nature of the disease and what would be required to limit its lethality. I’m sure that’s a part of the explanation, but they also seem to have more focused on the day-to-day swings on Wall Street than on the public’s health. They hoped that their reassurances would prevent a sell-off of stocks as if their words alone could stop the tsunami that was coming.

The new White House line is that we’re almost definitely going to see between 100,000 and 200,000 deaths, assuming we do everything right from here on out. We could see this new line take shape on the Today show when Dr. Deborah Birx, the response coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said on Monday that “if we do things together well, almost perfectly, we could get in the range of 100,000 to 200,000 fatalities.”

That was consistent with the expectations President Trump set during his Sunday night press conference. No less than 16 times during that appearance, the president cited an Imperial College London study that estimated 2.2 million Americans could die if no measures were taken to limit the outbreak of COVID-19. The Washington Post reported on the study on March 17, but Trump claimed to have seen its findings for the first time on Sunday.

He’s using that number now for only one reason, to make whatever the actual number is look like some kind of great success.

We don’t have to compare Trump to Rick Wilson’s fictional husband to understand that “success” already left the building. Trump was forced to recommend social distancing measures be extended through to the end of April, despite his recent call to relax things in time for Easter services.

He’s been acting like he could spin this pandemic from the beginning, and it is going to cost a lot of people their lives. He tries to beat one tactical retreat after another as reality catches up with his bullshit, but he’s still hasn’t changed his basic strategy.

It’s far too late now for him to declare any outcome a “win.”

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at