Pandemics call for a willingness to break medicine out of the usual red-tape mentality and accept some risks in combating a fast-moving, deadly virus. In that spirit, there was nothing wrong in theory with President Trump’s willingness to push the health-care system to consider hydroxychloroquine, although at his briefings he often sounded like a salesman desperate to make his quarterly quota.
Hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, is a well-established medicine for other purposes, and its potential has been worth exploring. Some promising early results led Democratic governors such as Andrew Cuomo and Gretchen Whitmer to join the White House task force’s cautious optimism. Too many of the president’s critics instead dug themselves into actively rooting for the treatment to fail.
The responsible thing to do with a clinically untested treatment is go where the evidence follows. The president, however, has responded to the barrage of criticism with his trademark relish for a fight. He now has publicly declared that he is taking hydroxychloroquine himself, as if his personal confidence in the drug is all that matters.
This marks a new chapter in a stupid sideshow that no one needs. It will embroil the White House and the Republican Party in defending hydroxychloroquine for the same reason his critics loathe a drug they hadn’t heard of before a few months ago — simply because it is a thing Trump favors. The vice president has already felt it necessary to state that he is not taking it.
The president is also making a bet on a matter out of his control, and just as the evidence in support of his position is diminishing. While reports are conflicting and the jury is still out on formal trials and peer-reviewed research, the studies so far are trending against the recommendation of hydroxychloroquine. New York hospitals have abandoned it, and recent studies have found no benefit, including one conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Trump dismissed the VA study, calling it “a ‘Trump enemy’ statement” and arguing that the patients given the drug “were very old, almost dead.”
Donald Trump wasn’t elected for his bedside manner, but this is unworthy of the seriousness of the moment and of his office. Beware the political side effects.