President Donald Trump has made up dozens of derogatory nicknames for his political rivals and for the many other folks he just doesn’t like. But he probably would not mind being called “the numbers guy.”
He might even consider it a compliment, and perhaps one that he actually earned. He is surely the only person elected president who could recite his winning margin in every state he carried.
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Trump vs Biden
In recent months he has immersed himself in battleground state polling numbers, as he goes head-to-head with former Vice President Joe Biden. Now, often trailing by double digits, Trump believes the pollsters are not just incompetent, but actually out to get him.
Even the Fox News polls do not escape his wrath, nor do the people running his reelection campaign. Indeed, they avoid showing him the results of their own internal polls, which might spark presidential tantrums.
Still, whether the numbers guy happens to be right or wrong is not all that important. But his numerical expertise has had far greater consequences – literally life-and-death consequences – with respect to his handling of the pandemic.
But Mr. Trump would probably claim that he has had a “perfect” record. He actually does! Every single major quantitative pronouncement he made about the coronavirus was dead wrong.
Back in January, February, and most of March, when the virus was spreading from China to virtually every other country, Trump was proclaiming that there would be no pandemic, and that when the weather turned warmer in April, we would have zero cases.
So, instead of taking the necessary preventive measures urged upon him by his world-class epidemiological advisors, he dragged his feet, while picking fights with governors desperate for testing kits and respirators.
The Numbers Guy Knew He Was On Solid Ground
For several weeks he wildly exaggerated the aid the federal government was extending to hospitals and other medical facilities throughout the nation. Although we were leading the world in the number of cases and deaths, Trump consistently claimed that we were doing a better job fighting the virus than every other country.
To bolster that claim in February and early March, the president proudly called attention to the relatively low number of cases of the virus in the United States – especially when compared to China. Ever the numbers guy, he knew he was on solid ground and did not even bother making up “alternate numbers.”
During the first week in March, the Grand Princess, a cruise ship carrying 2,422 passengers – most of whom were Americans – and 1,111 crew members, returned to San Francisco and requested permission to dock. Twenty-one passengers and crew members had tested positive for the coronavirus, but the president decided that everyone – the infected and those not yet infected – needed to stay on the ship.
What reason could he possibly have had? On March 7th he explained his thinking. Referring to the number of cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., he said, “I like the numbers where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.” The president of the United States thought 2,422 passengers and 1,111 crew members should remain confined to the ship – so that our number of coronavirus cases would continue to look good.
Immunizing Our Entire Population
Trump’s epidemiologists convinced him that the ultimate weapon against the virus would be a vaccine that immunized our entire population. The two big questions were whether we could develop such a vaccine, and how long that would take.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, a director of the National Institutes of Health, --and our nation’s leading epidemiologist-- suggested that it might take twelve to eighteen months to develop such a vaccine. Wrong answer!
President Trump, who after all, was not just a numbers guy, but someone who knew more about most subjects than the so-called experts, said that “I like a few months.” He actually thought it could be done that quickly.
So, let’s hear his reasoning. On March second, he revealed the basis for his estimate. “I mean, I like the sound of a couple of months better, if I must be honest.”
OK, by all means, please be honest! And he clearly was being honest. He was also being very stupid – even for him!>
Had he said, “Look, we built an atomic bomb in just three years during World War II. If you guys were provided with virtually unlimited resources, couldn’t you speed up your timetable?”
Record Cases Of Coronavirus Patients
In recent days, the number of new cases has reached record levels. President Trump’s solution? Reduce the number of people being tested for the virus. While that might actually work, it surely would not make us any better off.
Testing does not, in and of itself, have any effect on the number of people who actually have the virus. And just to set the record straight, the number of new cases is rising because the virus is spreading faster as more states are opening their economies, thereby reducing social distancing.
Our nation’s leading epidemiologists have been consistently warning against the states opening prematurely, but what do they know? Better to listen to the stable genius – the numbers guy.
So Trump wants to reduce testing to lower the number of recorded new cases. While this won’t aid the fight against the virus, it would make Trump’s beloved numbers look better.
The president appears to think that testing people for the virus serves no purpose other than to make him look bad. He is either clueless or willfully ignorant of its basic purpose.
Those who are infected are asked to self-quarantine, and to provide a list of people with whom they have recently been in close physical contact. Those people are then traced, tested, and if they are found to have the virus, the process is repeated – self-quarantine and trace their contacts.
Why Testing Is So Important
Does President Trump understand this process and why testing is so important? And on the off-chance that he does, do you think he would actually care? Yeah, he’s a real numbers guy, but the only numbers he cares about are those that might help him get reelected.
Apparently, a lot more Americans may have the virus than the official count – which is currently somewhat above 2.5 million. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of recorded cases is about one tenth the number of actual cases. Right now, about 2.5 million Americans who have recently been tested have been found to have the virus. But 25 million people may actually be infected.
Were President Trump able to carry his testing strategy to its logical conclusion, he would eliminate testing entirely. He could then order the CDC to adjust its estimate accordingly, and declare that he had single-handedly reduced the number of cases by 25 million.
Soon then, the greatest president in our nation’s history will be reelected by a landslide. And future historians may one day call Donald Trump the Great Enumerator.