Coronavirus: Who Trump supporters blame for virus 'hysteria'

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Media caption,

"Every one of these doctors said: 'How do you know so much about this?'"

With stock markets crashing, Democratic candidates cancelling events and politicians scrambling to come up with a response, the coronavirus outbreak is casting a long shadow over US politics. But some Trump supporters say the growing crisis is largely the work of a familiar villain - the US media.

Conservative radio host and three-time congressional candidate Dan Bongino had a message for the almost 2,000 Donald Trump supporters gathered in an airport hotel convention room in the toney town of Palm Beach, Florida, on Tuesday night.

The president, he said, had made stopping the spread of the coronavirus his highest priority. He had the "finest minds" in the world working on it 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Vice-President Mike Pence, charged with heading the virus task force, was focused "like I've never seen him before in my life".

Despite these efforts, Bongino acknowledged, the president's power had limits - and that the virus was "very dangerous" and "highly contagious".

"He's not the Messiah," he said. "He can't just wave a wand and make this go away."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Trump, who has said he is in good health, greeted supporters as he landed in Florida

That the president is not an omnipotent political deity who leaves adversaries, human and viral alike, trembling in his wake was perhaps an unusual admission in a room full of supporters decked out in Donald Trump gear, surrounded by vendors hawking Donald Trump hats, t-shirts, hot sauce and posters of a beaming Trump family that proclaimed "God, Life, Trump".

Less surprising, however, was that Bongino placed the blame for the growing crisis at the feet of the mainstream media, which he said "engaged in a pathetic disgusting pile-on" to damage the president's political standing by making it appear that his administration was not doing enough to combat the spread of the virus and help those infected.

"Just when I think we've hit a new low, they impress me again with their depravity," he said. "They blast right through the damn floor, and they reside in the basement."

Bongino ended his remarks on an up note, however, saying the US had been through wars, revolutions, the Spanish flu and "hippies" - and survived.

"We'll get through this," he said. "We'll fix it."

After Bongino concluded his presentation and retired to a table to pose for photographs and give his autograph to those who paid $30 (£23) in cash for a copy of his new book, people present echoed his sentiments.

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"Donald Trump is a brilliant guy," said Mike Huey of Palm Beach Gardens. "He knows how to surround himself with brilliant people, and I'm sure he's doing every thing he can to control the situation."

Huey, who runs an online disaster preparation and survivalist gear company, said he has "100% confidence" that the president is doing the right thing.

Despite those efforts, Trump hasn't found a way to arrest the steep drop in the stock market over the past few weeks, however. Given that the president has frequently boasted about market gains over the past three years, this reversal of fortune threatens to undermine what would have been a key selling point for his re-election campaign in the autumn.

Maggie VandenBerghe, a California filmmaker in town for an event at Trump's nearby Mar-a-Lago club, said the president's enemies in the press were to blame for "the scope of the hysteria".

"Maybe it's a little conspiratorial, but I would not be surprised if the media was drumming up this hysteria in part to shake things up ahead of the election," she said.

"The one thing Donald Trump has really been able to run on time and time again, regardless of how you feel about his other policies, is the economy. And if they can destroy that ahead of the election, they might have a better chance of electing a Democrat."

Dan Ray, who goes by the nickname "Deplorable Dan", also blamed the media, as well as the left and its "Marxist mentality" for what he called "the goofy virus scare".

Ray cited a series of statistics - including fatalities in the US from auto accidents and the seasonal flu - to suggest that American fears were overblown.

"One hundred ten people die in America every day from car accidents," he said. "Those are human beings, and they're lives, but that doesn't stop me from driving."

What is the current situation in the US?

  • There are over 1,000 coronavirus cases nationwide as of Wednesday afternoon
  • Twenty-nine people have died as a result of the virus, with most deaths occurring in Washington state
  • Major events and music festivals have been postponed or cancelled
  • The US infectious diseases chief has warned lawmakers the situation will worsen
  • The Trump administration is looking into providing tax relief and an economic stimulus package

As for economic and health concerns, Ray is not personally worried. He said he jams soft soap under his fingernails to keep germs at bay and has been stocking up on silver dollars and survivalist gear for years, just in case of a breakdown in civil order.

"The stock market doesn't affect people like me," he said. "I haven't had a bank account since 1984. I don't have a credit card. If I'm going to buy something, I've got to have cash."

Image caption,
"Deplorable" Dan blamed the media for pushing virus fears

Recent opinion polls suggest the coronavirus sentiment at the Palm Beach event, hosted by a group that bills itself as the president's largest independent fan club, reflect the larger views of Republicans across the US - and that America is once again sharply divided along partisan lines.

According to SurveyMonkey, 62% of Republicans think the seriousness of coronavirus is "generally exaggerated", versus only 31% of Democrats.

A Quinnipiac poll found 63% of Republicans were either "not so concerned" or "not concerned at all" about the virus, while for Democrats that number drops to 31%. As for the president's handling of the response to the virus, 87% of Republicans approve, while 83% of Democrats disapprove.

Dawn Rofrano of Singer Island agreed that the president was handling things "the right way". Like many Americans, she said, she is carrying hand sanitiser and being careful not to touch her face, but "for the most part I'm not scared".

"I'm looking at the facts," said Rofrano, who works as a health coach at a natural medicine clinic. "That's what I need to do."

As for the economy and the political risk to the president?

"I'm not worried about that, either," she said. "It will come back. When you are on the side of truth, I know that it will always prevail."