WASHINGTON (AP) — As the coronavirus pandemic began bearing down on the United States in March, President Donald Trump set out his expectations.
If the U.S. could keep the death toll between 100,000 to 200,000 people, Trump said, it would indicate that his administration had “done a very good job.”
In the coming days, the number of U.S. deaths is set to clear the outer band of the president’s projections: 200,000, according to the official tally, though the real number is certainly higher. The virus continues to spread and there is currently no approved vaccine. Some public health experts fear infections could spike this fall and winter, perhaps even doubling the death count by the end of the year.
Yet the grim milestone and the prospect of more American deaths to come have prompted no rethinking from the president about his handling of the pandemic and no outward expressions of regrets. Instead, Trump has sought to reshape the significance of the death tally, trying to turn the loss of 200,000 Americans into a success story by contending the numbers could have been even higher without the actions of his administration.
“If we didn’t do our job, it would be three and a half, two and a half, maybe 3 million people,” Trump said Friday, leaning on extreme projections of what could have happened if nothing at all were done to fight the pandemic. “We have done a phenomenal job with respect to COVID-19.”
Trump’s reelection prospects will hinge in part on whether enough voters agree with that assessment. The challenge he faces in making his case, with just over six weeks before the Nov. 3 election and voting already underway in some states, is clear.
Just 39% of Americans approve of the president’s handling of the pandemic, according to a poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Roughly one-quarter of Republicans say they don’t approve of Trump’s stewardship of the public health crisis, though his overall backing among GOP voters sits at a comfortable 84%.
There’s also little doubt that the death toll in the U.S. has soared past where Trump repeatedly assured the public it would be. In February, when the first coronavirus cases were detected in the U.S., the president said the numbers would be “down to close to zero” within days. In early April, when U.S. officials estimated at least 100,000 people would die from the pandemic even if all conceivable steps were taken against it, Trump suggested the numbers would be lower, saying: “I think we’re doing better than that.”