Trump’s Coronavirus Failures Forced Governors to Step Up. Here’s What They’ve Done.

By Keya Vakil

August 25, 2020

Most Americans disapprove of how President Trump has handled COVID-19—despite what you heard at the Republican National Convention.

More than 175,000 Americans have died at the hands of the coronavirus, but you’d never know it from having watched the first night of the Republican National Convention on Monday. 

Rather than truthfully address President Donald Trump’s repeated attempts to downplay the threat posed by the virus or his baseless assertions that it would simply disappear, the grim spectacle tried to recast him as an effective leader who provided medical workers with the personal protective equipment (PPE) they needed, received praise from Democratic governors, and saved lives. 

But despite the magic of selectively edited videos and what a handful of nurses may have told Trump on Monday, the truth remains that the United States, with 4% of the global population, makes up 24% of the world’s cases and 22% of its deaths from COVID-19. 

The U.S. has arguably had the worst coronavirus response of any country in the developed world, in large part because of the Trump administration’s failure to lead a coordinated federal response.

As a result, the nation’s governors have been pushed to the forefront of the coronavirus response, doing their best where the Trump administration has failed. The federal government did provide some funding for testing and supplies and aid to states through the CARES Act in March, but those efforts represent a drop in the bucket of what’s needed, according to governors and members of Congress

Rather than provide further help, over the past six months, Trump and his administration have:

  • Decided against a national testing strategy and instead passed the buck on testing to the states, forcing governors to take extreme measures to source tests without the help of the federal government. Nearly six months after the virus was declared a pandemic, testing shortages still exist;
  • Called the federal government a “backup” and lashed out at states for their requests for PPE for nurses and doctors, resulting in supply shortages that put the lives of healthcare workers at risk. Instead of offering federal resources, Trump told governors they were on their own;
  • Repeatedly interfered with states’ efforts to obtain those supplies and tests, and in some cases, seized them altogether;
  • Ignored public health experts’ advice on lifting restrictions too early and instead encouraged states to reopen to try to save the faltering economy, leading to a surge of new cases in much of the country that ultimately hindered economic growth and led to thousands of deaths;
  • Mocked the idea of wearing masks to protect against the coronavirus, even as substantial evidence emerged of its effectiveness in reducing transmission of the virus;
  • Admitted to ordering the slowdown of coronavirus testing because Trump didn’t want new cases identified;
  • Initially opposed a plan to provide $25 billion to states to fund COVID-19 testing and even tried to cut funding for testing sites;
  • Refused to provide hundreds of billions of dollars in critical aid to states and cities to help them weather the financial impact of the pandemic, forcing them to slash their budgets and potentially reduce essential services such as education, housing, and health programs.
  • Withdrawn from the World Health Organization amid the pandemic;

According to FiveThirtyEight, 58% of voters disapprove of Trump’s response to the pandemic. 

The president’s failure to lead effectively during the public health crisis has forced governors to get creative: Some have created their own coalitions to procure PPE, COVID-19 tests, and other medical supplies.

Earlier this month, a group of seven states formed a bipartisan purchasing compact to obtain 3.5 million rapid antigen tests that can detect COVID-19 within 30 minutes.  

In a statement announcing the arrangement, Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan—who negotiated the deal—praised the bipartisan efforts of governors while leveling an implicit critique at the Trump administration for its testing failures.

“With severe shortages and delays in testing and the federal administration attempting to cut funding for testing, the states are banding together to acquire millions of faster tests to help save lives and slow the spread of COVID-19,” Hogan said. “I want to thank my fellow governors for signing on to this groundbreaking bipartisan agreement.”

Since the deal was announced, three more governors have signed onto Hogan’s compact, bringing the total number of states involved to 10, each of whom will receive 500,000 rapid tests.

RELATED: Experts Predicted a Coronavirus Pandemic as Far Back as 2017. Trump Ignored Them.

Individual governors have also stepped up and implemented politically risky measures that have proven effective.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican and one of the governors to join Hogan’s effort, was among the first governors of either party to take the virus seriously, quickly imposing a stay-at-home order and promoting mask-wearing. His efforts have earned him a 75% approval rating in Ohio, according to a June Quinnipiac University poll, up from 44% in 2019.

In neighboring Michigan, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat who is also part of Hogan’s compact, has similarly earned plaudits for prioritizing doctors and science, taking early action by declaring a state of emergency and implementing a stay-at-home order, and carrying out a more cautious reopening plan. Owing to her effective response, Whitmer’s approval rating has consistently stood above 60% this summer.

Elsewhere, the Democratic governors of three other key swing states in the 2020 presidential election—Roy Cooper of North Carolina, Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania, and Tony Evers of Wisconsin—earned approval ratings of between 58% and 63% this summer after taking significant actions to limit the spread of the virus. 

RELATED: Americans Think Governors Are Doing a Better Job on Coronavirus Than Trump

The disparity in approval ratings between Trump and many of the nation’s governors underscores a clear trend: Leaders who took decisive action to institute face-mask mandates, promote social distancing, and waited to reopen earned more support from voters than those who did not.


  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.



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