Monday, May 4, 2020

Republican campaign strategy: blame it all on China

First posted in Asia Times.

Republican campaign strategy: blame it all on China
It’s official now. For the coming election, the Republican Party will bet the house blaming everything on China. The 57 page “Corona Big Book” prepared by O’Donnell and Associates, the party’s strategist, outlined all the waysto lay the blame on China, to accuse the Democrats for being soft on China and to vow to make China pay for the coronavirus.
This GOP strategy leaves no room for Joe Biden and the Democrats to out trump Trump. The “Book” also recommends not to bother defending President Donald Trump. In other words, all offense and no defense. Presumably, the strategists are clear-eyed and can see that Trump is not defensible.
The PBS Newshourreported that at the daily coronavirus briefing Trump spoke, on the average, four times longer than the combined times for his two scientific advisors, Drs. Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci. His White House staff, not wishing to see daily displays riddled with gaffs, wanted to cancel these briefing, but Trump refused because he doesn’t want to miss any opportunity for exposure on national TV. 
Bleach as home remedy
Needless to say, his off-the-cuff utterances can become rich material for the Biden camp to build into campaign spots. Why not, for example, interview some New Yorker who drank bleach as a cure for Covid-19 and ask that person what he/she thought of Trump prescribing without a license?
A key part of the GOP strategy is to accuse China of months of cover up and hiding the virus from the world. Many, including me, have not been able to find any possible gaps in the timeline communicated from China that could span anywhere close to a month. 
A more recentanalysiswas posted last week by Vijay Prashad. He carefully examined the events inside China and the Chinese interaction with the World Health Organization from December 31 to the end of January. He could not find any supporting evidence for even the one western mediathat claimed China withheld information on the outbreak for 6 days from January 14 to 20.
From January 24, 2020 to February 20, researchersfrom China published 15 scientific articles in New England Journal of MedicineLancetand Journal of American Medical Association, each paper reporting on the ongoing progress on their investigations of the novel coronavirus. Publishing at such a rate in peer reviewed scientific journals was phenomenal and hardly consistent with any conspiracy to withhold data and information from the world. 
Trump abetted by Dr. Deborah Birx also pointed to the orders of magnitude lower death rate from China compared to the western countries as a clear indication that China has been lying. Not so fast, said John Walshin Asia Times. China’s death rate was consistent with neighboring countries in Asia and Australia. 
The real difference was that western countries ignored the lessons learned in China while the neighbors in Asia did not. Lockdown and social distance were absolutely necessary to flatten the curve and bring the contagion to heel, which many states in America were observing more in the breach. 
If the Biden advisers decide to mine the alluvial nuggets that Trump has carelessly strewed about and treat them as issues to draw attention to his ineptitude and disqualifiers as president, they can start with the Covid-19 timeline in the U.S. There are many versions and this is just one. This timeline compilation identified the days Trump played golf, the days spent on the road campaigning, and a list of all the inconsistent and contradictory statements he made to the press. 
Intriguingly enough, the timeline said Trump was first warned about the virus on January 8, which he ignored.
Timeline exposes Trump’s malfeasance
It turned out that the head of China’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention had contacted the U.S. counterpart in Atlanta on January 3to inform Dr. Robert Redfield of the appearance of as yet unidentified, pneumonia inducing virus. It took a few days for this news to filter its way through Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, to Trump. According to insiders, Trump either did not regard Azar highly or the department particularly important or both and did not take the report seriously.
If a cover-up took place, it was due to Trump’s negligence and not taking his responsibility seriously. Looking at the timetable, the Biden camp can see that Trump frittered away more than 6 weeks. Those were precious period that the Trump White House should have been using to mobilize the nation and prepare to deal with the invasion of Covid-19. 
Laying the blame on China is to distract and take attention away from the malfeasance of the Trump administration. Other than Trump’s core team, everybody else in the world understands that the blame game accomplishes nothing, and worldwide collaboration is required to bring the pandemic under control.
There is another reason to take a different approach to using the Covid-19 as a campaign issue. By calling the novel coronavirus the Chinese virus, the Trump administration has made Asians living in America targets of racial epithets and physical attacks. There are around 20 million Asian Americans in America. Biden can win their support by just referring the virus as Covid-19, the official WHO designated name. Of course, proactively defending Asian American civil rights would also be the right thing to do.
The other part of the GOP strategy is to accuse Biden and the Democratic Party for being soft on China. What should Biden do? To deny being soft on China or to show that he is tougher on China than Trump would be a losing proposition. Every denial would prompt another challenge until the defense runs out of responses. 
Instead the Biden camp should turn the issue on its head and examine what Trump being “hard” on China has done for the American people.
Trump’s damage
The most obvious is the tariff war initiated by Trump. Biden’s team of economists should study the amount of “free” money collected from the tariff for America (a point of pride for Trump) vs. how much businesses and farmers lost in export sales. Also, how much prices went up because of the duty on imports from China and therefore the rise in cost of living for the American people. 
Trump equates free trade to be equal bi-direction volume of trade and considers trade deficit to be a personal affront. When Trump launched the trade war, he thought he would reduce the trade imbalance. The last time I looked in Augustlast year, the trade deficit with China actually increased and had not narrowed.
Candidate Biden also needs to think about the difficult tasks after the election if he wins. If the pandemic is still around, he will have to work with China to fight the contagion together. If the infections are already under control, he will need to come up with a mutually beneficial economic expansion plan to help the US recover. 
He will face a tough challenge. The animosity toward China has been stoked to hystericallevels by partisans on the left and the right. The tension was heightened by the novel coronavirus. Biden will need the courage and wisdom to articulate a vision where China and the U.S. doesn’t have to be friends but can openly trade and do business together. The more activity the two countries do together, the more they will stimulate each other’s economy and hasten recovery.
The International Monetary Fund is calling the pandemic “the great lockdown” and a crisis like no other in history. Their best guess projection for the global economic growth in 2020 is an unprecedented negative 3%. The U.S. is projected to shrink by -5.9%. The only economies expected to end the year on the plus side are China at 1.2% and India at 1.9%.
A lot of uncertainties and unknown lie ahead. The actual economic projections could be way off but the relative difference IMF assigns for China and the U.S. is saying that should the two countries continue to exchange body blows, China will emerge better off than the U.S. even if both end up losers.
Such dire IMF forecast should fortify Biden as he dismisses the right wing pushing to totally decouple with China. No one spelled out the insanity of decoupling with China more lucidly than Peter Beinart in the Atlantic.The Biden brain trust would do well to study this essay carefully and map out a plan for the future for growth, and avoid the destructive path Trump has embarked.

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