Why Trump Has Wobbled on the GOP Plan to Blame China for COVID-19

Putin might not be the only one who has ‘the goods’ on Trump.

Donald Trump initially responded to the coronavirus outbreak by engaging in denial. But with the pandemic resulting in over 30,000 deaths in the United States, denial became untenable. Rather than step up to take responsibility to stop the spread of the virus, Trump moved on to allocate blame. In addition to the previous administration, one of his favorite targets these days is Democratic governors.

The Republican establishment, however, is intent on blaming another villain: China.

The strategy could not be clearer: From the Republican lawmakers blanketing Fox News to new ads from President Trump’s super PAC to the biting criticism on Donald Trump Jr.’s Twitter feed, the G.O.P. is attempting to divert attention from the administration’s heavily criticized response to the coronavirus by pinning the blame on China.

With the death toll from the pandemic already surpassing 34,000 Americans and unemployment soaring to levels not seen since the Great Depression, Republicans increasingly believe that elevating China as an archenemy culpable for the spread of the virus, and harnessing America’s growing animosity toward Beijing, may be the best way to salvage a difficult election.

As the authors of that New York Times piece point out, the attempt to blame China is running into a bit of a problem. Trump keeps sending mixed messages about the identified villian.

Even as the president tries to rebut criticism of his slow response to the outbreak by highlighting his January travel restrictions on China, he has repeatedly called Mr. Xi a friend and said “we are dealing in good faith” with the repressive government. He also dropped his periodic references to the disease as “the China virus” after a telephone call with Mr. Xi.

As the Republican establishment gears up to blame China and use that against Biden in the 2020 election, we’re seeing some powerful push-back that demonstrates the problem.

The suggestion has been that Trump’s hesitancy to join the Republican bandwagon is because he is intent on finalizing a trade agreement with China and recognizes that we are dependent on them for medical supplies.

I would propose that there is something else going on. What we know about Donald Trump is that he is always driven by self-interest. His conflicted approach to China is more likely to be based on his business interests.

You might remember that only three months after Trump was inaugurated, his daughter Ivanka’s company was awarded several Chinese trademarks on the same day that the family dined with President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago. Over the course of May and June 2018, Ivanka procured five more trademarks while the president was lifting sanctions against the Chinese telecommunications company ZTE. The pattern continued into the fall of 2018.

The Chinese government granted 18 trademarks to companies linked to President Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump over the last two months, Chinese public records show, raising concerns about conflicts of interest in the White House.

In October, China’s Trademark Office granted provisional approval for 16 trademarks to Ivanka Trump Marks LLC, bringing to 34 the total number of marks China has greenlighted this year, according to the office’s online database.

Perhaps the timing of all of that is merely a coincidence—just as it might be a coincidence that Trump stopped referring to the “Chinese virus” after a phone call with President Xi Jinping. But I doubt it.

There is also this interesting little tidbit from the Steele dossier that has consistently been ignored.

In other words, Putin might not be the only one who has “the goods” on Trump.

Support the Washington Monthly and get a FREE subscription

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.