There were a number of factors that made the Katrina response a political disaster for George W. Bush: the scale of the disaster that would have made it difficult for any administration to respond; the incompetence of the local officials, which exacerbated the problem; the administration’s delay in flat-out militarizing the response; bad optics (Bush’s fly-over) and an epic gaffe (“heckuva job”); the fact that New Orleans was a majority-minority city, making racial demagoguery irresistible to the Left.
You have all the same pieces in place in Puerto Rico, where much of the infrastructure has been damaged; the local government — not impressive in the best of circumstances — is overwhelmed; there has been a hesitance to, metaphorically speaking, throw in the Marines (Rubio has made a plea for this); the acting-Homeland Security Secretary stepped in it by calling Puerto Rico “a good news” story; and the Left is arguing that Trump doesn’t care about Puerto Rico because it’s Puerto Rico.
What’s different is that we haven’t seen the kind of real-time TV images that made post-Katrina so heart-wrenching and the local officials have until just now been complimentary of the administration’s response, taking some of the edge off criticisms. But Trump obviously feels defensive about it, given all his tweets about what a marvelous job his team is doing. More important than tweeting is throwing everything we have at the problem, right away. Not only will this presumably help on the ground, it will be very important to the politics.
Because another lesson from Katrina is that once you are behind the curve in the response to a major disaster, you never catch up.