Elections

In Debates, Democratic Presidential Aspirants Dithered in the Early Days of Coronavirus

From left: Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Bernie Sanders, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, and activist Tom Steyer onstage before the start of the Democratic primary debate in Charleston, S.C., February 25, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Across multiple televised debates, while the pandemic grew, those who crave his job stayed mum about COVID-19.

President Donald Trump’s critics pound the same drum daily: He waited too long to take COVID-19 seriously. He responded too slowly.

“Many Americans are saying the exact same thing about you,” CBS News’ impertinent correspondent Weijia Jiang sassed the president Sunday. “You should have warned them the virus was spreading like wildfire through the month of February instead of holding rallies with thousands of people.”

In fact, Trump’s actions below confirm that he energetically fought the virus in January and February. But how much warning did Americans get from Democrats who want to unseat Trump? Across multiple televised showdowns, while the pandemic grew, those who crave his job stayed mum about COVID-19. Rather than focus public attention on this outbreak, they wallowed in debate-stage navel-gazing.

CNN hosted a Democrat face-off at Iowa’s Drake University on January 14. A week earlier, Trump’s Centers for Disease Control issued a travel notice on Wuhan, China, and launched its Coronavirus Incident Management System. Regardless, neither a warning about nor a mention of the coronavirus passed the lips of former vice president Joe Biden or senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, or Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Instead, they discussed such matters as Iran, Iraq, fracking, and whether a woman could get elected president.

A week earlier, Trump’s Centers for Disease Control issued a travel notice on Wuhan, China, and launched its Coronavirus Incident Management System. Regardless, neither a warning about nor a mention of the coronavirus passed the lips of former vice president Joe Biden or senators Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, or Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. Instead, they discussed such matters as Iran, Iraq, fracking, and whether a woman could get elected president.

ABC staged a February 7 debate in Manchester, New Hampshire. The World Health Organization already had declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Trump had restricted arrivals from China (one day after the WHO’s finding), addressed the disease in his State of the Union, and dispatched top aides to brief members of Congress. Nonetheless, these White House wannabes never raised this illness. Instead, Sanders and Biden parried over Medicare for All. They agreed on this: “We have a racist society from top to bottom,” Sanders declared. “That is that we, in fact, there is systematic racism,” Biden concurred.

Democrats debated February 19, in Las Vegas. NBC presided. Days earlier, the Trump Administration briefed the National Governors Association on COVID-19 and recruited Sanofi Pasteur and a division of Johnson & Johnson to develop vaccines and treatments. Nevertheless, these potential Democrat nominees dared not speak this virus’ name. Instead, three weeks into this international contagion, Warren cut former New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg down to size. Biden and Klobuchar boasted about their knowledge of Mexico and its leaders. And Sanders discussed his three homes.

Not until the February 25 debate in Charleston, South Carolina, did these pretenders to the presidency even say “coronavirus.”

What a missed opportunity.

Imagine if Senator Klobuchar had told an earlier debate: “I represent 3M, one of America’s leading safety-gear makers. The former Minnesota Manufacturing and Mining Company is headquartered in St. Paul. I spoke this afternoon with its CEO, Mike Roman. I told him, ‘Prepare for COVID-19!’ He accepted my suggestion and immediately will triple production of N95 masks, which our medical personnel and first responders soon will need — in huge numbers.”

Senator Warren could have said, “I invited the chiefs of Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital, Biogen, and other healthcare institutions that I represent. They joined my new Emergency Committee on COVID-19. I will stay in close touch with them and make their ideas famous as we fight this new plague.”

Viewers could have seen Senator Sanders say: “I challenged Vermont’s small businesses to help defeat COVID-19. Mad River Distillers in Waitsfield is redirecting its whiskey-making gear to produce hand sanitizer. Inntopia in Stowe works with ski resorts. They launched Goggles for Docs, to provide eye protection for medical workers. I will spotlight such fine Vermont companies that are battling this global disease.”

Imagine if former vice president Biden announced, “On my invitation, Dick Cheney, Al Gore, Dan Quayle, and Walter Mondale have agreed to join my Former Vice Presidents’ Committee to Crush COVID-19. We have offered the Trump administration our collective experience and individual contacts to assist this enormous national effort. I will spearhead this small, but influential, bipartisan group. We start tomorrow morning.”

These fictional scenarios assume Democratic leadership — something seldom seen in that party’s presidential debates . . . or elsewhere in the War on COVID-19.

COVID-19 survivor Timothy Furey contributed research to this opinion piece.

Deroy Murdock is a Manhattan-based Fox News contributor and a contributing editor of National Review Online, and a senior fellow with the London Center for Policy Research.

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