WASHINGTON ― On top of being a bad president and possibly a Kenyan, Barack Obama was also a terrible psychic.
Or so claims President Donald Trump, who in his struggles to explain why he downplayed a deadly new virus for two months as his administration failed to come up with a robust testing plan has resorted to blaming predecessor Obama ― for failing to develop a test for a disease that would not come into existence until three years after he left office.
“Maybe (Obama) knew it was coming, but he and the ‘Deep State’ kept the cupboards bare,” joked Joe Walsh, a former Republican House member from Illinois who unsuccessfully ran against Trump for the 2020 GOP nomination.
White House officials did not respond to HuffPost queries on the matter.
One GOP pollster who spoke on condition of anonymity said blaming Obama is clearly designed for consumption by Trump’s hard-core supporters. Trump and his political team “are all about the care and feeding of his base,” he said. “That’s who he is.”
Douglas Brinkley, a historian at Rice University, said presidents have long blamed predecessors to explain away their own troubles. “But Trump’s taking it to where anything he does wrong is Barack Obama’s fault is beyond childish,” Brinkley said. “It’s just kind of Trump’s insanity unspooling right in front of us.”
Trump has lied repeatedly about the pandemic and his handling of it, and has already stated that he does not “take responsibility at all” for the federal response and the more than 43,000 Americans the disease has killed so far. But his blaming of Obama for not devising a suitable test defies both common sense and the laws of temporal physics.
Tests for viruses are unique to each particular strain. And this new coronavirus, believed to have originated in bats, did not infect its first human until October or November 2019. Chinese scientists did not publish its gene sequence until Jan. 10 of this year – just days shy of three years after Obama left office.
The first test was created by German researchers and made available by the World Health Organization to the international community on Jan. 17.
It remains unclear why, under Trump, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did not adopt that test, at least as a back-up, while it struggled over the next month to develop a working version of its own. But those lost weeks crippled U.S. efforts to contain the virus to cities where it first emerged in the U.S., and could wind up leading to tens of thousands of more deaths than might have occurred had there been a timely deployment of tests.
“Obama will always be the perfect boogeyman for these folks. It’s sad.”
Trump, nevertheless, continues to insist he has done a great job. Each time he has been asked about the problems with testing, he has blamed Obama. Early on, he falsely blamed him for a regulation that he claimed slowed the production of tests, even though that regulation had never been formally adopted.
But that soon transitioned to repeated ― and false ― claims that Obama had left a “broken” and “obsolete system” for developing and manufacturing tests, which then went even further to claims that Obama failed to develop a test for this particular virus.
“The original test, the ones we inherited … they were broken. They were obsolete. They were not good tests,” Trump said at an April 3 White House coronavirus briefing, a venue the president frequently turns into a lengthy session to complain about negative press coverage and to deflect blame.
“We inherited broken testing. We inherited nothing. What we inherited from the previous administration was totally broken,” he said at a briefing 10 days later.
At last Saturday’s briefing, he said: “I inherited broken junk.”
Trump has also repeatedly blamed Obama for not leaving a fully-stocked national stockpile of medical supplies ― “Our cupboards were bare,” he said Saturday, as he has in many of his briefings. But he failed to acknowledge that Republicans in Congress refused to approve Obama administration requests to replenish the stockpile of N95 respirator masks depleted in the 2009-10 H1N1 swine flu pandemic. More important, Trump fails to address why his administration did not act to replenish that stockpile in the three-plus years he has been in office.
Jason Miller, a top aide to Trump’s 2016 campaign who remains an informal adviser, said the president was able to blame “career politicians” from both parties in the past, but that doing so for this pandemic is much harder. “People understand decades of terrible trade deals,” he said. “Tougher job to explain lack of preparedness during Obama-Biden years.”
Norm Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute, has an alternative theory about why Trump continues to blame and attack Obama: “He is a racist.”
Ornstein pointed to Trump’s willingness to ride the lie that Obama was an illegitimate president because he was actually born in Kenya to a prominent role within the modern GOP. “He knows that his base has disdain for Obama, so it is another way for him to get resonance with that base,” Ornstein said.
Walsh, who spent years as a conservative talk radio host ginning up anger toward Obama but who has since apologized, agreed that Trump was simply playing to his most loyal fans. “They consider Obama to be ‘un-American.’ To be an ‘other.’ A socialist, a Muslim, his race, you name it,” Walsh said. “Obama will always be the perfect boogeyman for these folks. It’s sad.”