A Timeline of Denial and Incompetence

A non-exhaustive tour of Trump's utterances on the pandemic since January.

“#USAxAUS” by White House is in the Public Domain

I started to write a post about incompetence and this administration as it pertains to the Covid-19 pandemic which led me to start this list of Trump statements about the virus as a reference point (which then consumed the time I had for blogging today).

Some of this was harvesting previous posts, and others were just items I had not yet commented upon. This list is not exhaustive (a truly exhaustive list would be, well, exhausting to compile). Indeed, I am fairly certain one could write a book along the lines of Drezner’s The Toddler-in-Chief based on quotes from Trump regarding the pandemic, journalistic accounts regarding the admin’s response, and fact-checking those items.

Broadly speaking, I think there are the following eras of Trump’s response.

  1. The initial denial/downplaying (from January into March).
  2. The period of pretending to take it seriously (from roughy around his Oval Office address through his Aló Presidente period) which ended in May.
  3. His current period of insisting he did a great job, asserting that we have cases because of tests, and pretending like it is all over so we should just stop worrying about it all.

These are all represented below, mostly without additional commentary.

All block-quotes are the words of Donald J. Trump. Any emphases are mine.

January 22, 2020, in an interview with CNBC:

It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine

January 30, 2020, Remarks by President Trump at a USMCA Celebration with American Workers | Warren, MI:

We have very little problem in this country at this moment — five.  And those people are all recuperating successfully.  But we’re working very closely with China and other countries, and we think it’s going to have a very good ending for it.  So that I can assure you.¨–Donald J. Trump,

February 4, 2020, Remarks by President Trump in State of the Union Address:

Protecting Americans’ health also means fighting infectious diseases.  We are coordinating with the Chinese government and working closely together on the coronavirus outbreak in China.  My administration will take all necessary steps to safeguard our citizens from this threat.

Note: that is the totality of the discussion of the virus in the SOTU.

February 24, 2020:

February 26, 2020, Remarks by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force in Press Conference:

We — we’re ready to adapt and we’re ready to do whatever we have to as the disease spreads, if it spreads. As most of you know, the — the level that we’ve had in our country is very low, and those people are getting better, or we think that in almost all cases they’re better, or getting. We have a total of 15. We took in some from Japan — you heard about that — because they’re American citizens, and they’re in quarantine. And they’re getting better too.

But we felt we had an obligation to do that. It could have been as many as 42. And we found that we were — it was just an obligation we felt that we had. We could have left them, and that would have been very bad — very bad, I think — of American people. And they’re recovering.

Of the 15 people — the “original 15,” as I call them — 8 of them have returned to their homes, to stay in their homes until fully recovered. One is in the hospital and five have fully recovered. And one is, we think, in pretty good shape and it’s in between hospital and going home.

So we have a total of — but we have a total of 15 people, and they’re in a process of recovering, with some already having fully recovered.

February 27, 2020, Remarks by President Trump in Meeting with African American Leaders:

And you know what?  If we were doing a bad job, we should also be criticized.  But we have done an incredible job.  We’re going to continue.  It’s going to disappear.  One day — it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.  And from our shores, we — you know, it could get worse before it gets better.  It could maybe go away.  We’ll see what happens.  Nobody really knows.


To think of it — with all of what you see going on — 15 people.  We brought in the others, but — and they’re doing good.  But 15 people is almost, I would say, a miracle.

March 6, 2020, during a tour of a CDC facility:

anyone who wants a test can get a test.

This assertion was not true (and still isn’t true).

March 9, 2020:

March 17, 2020, during a press conference at the White House:

This is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.

March 27, 2020, Remarks by President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Members of the Coronavirus Task Force in Press Briefing:

You can call it a germ, you can call it a flu, you can call it a virus.  You know, you can call it many different names.  I’m not sure anybody even knows what it is. 

March 29, 2020:

April 16, 2020, during a daily briefing from the White House:

Suppose we hit the body with a tremendous ultraviolet or just very powerful light?

[…]The disinfectant knocks it out in a minute. One minute. Is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside?

May 10, 2020:

More on the H1N1 claim here.

June 20, 2020, at his tally in Tulsa:

Here’s the bad part. When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please!’

July 1, 2020 in an interview with Fox Business:

I think we’re gonna be very good with the coronavirus, I think at some point that’s going to sort of just disappear, I hope.

July 4, 2020, Remarks by President Trump at the 2020 Salute to America:

Likewise, testing — there were no tests for a new virus, but now we have tested over 40 million people.  But by so doing, we show cases, 99 percent of which are totally harmless.  Results that no other country will show, because no other country has testing that we have — not in terms of the numbers or in terms of the quality.

This is not true. The current mortality rate is ~3.7% and the risk of hospitalization is higher than that, and we still do not know what the longer-term effects are. This is a highly misleading statement.

July 19, 2020, interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday:

Many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day. They have the sniffles and we put it down as a test. Many of them — don’t forget, I guess it’s like 99.7 percent, people are going to get better and in many cases they’re going to get better very quickly.

Treating a disease that has infected, as of this writing, 3.8 million Americans and killed 143,226, as if it can in any way be classified as the “sniffles” (as he has done on multiple occasions) is, simply, a remarkable abdication of responsibility and a downplaying of tragedy.

To be continued, it would seem…

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Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Liberal Capitalist says:

    That guy is gonna lose SO bad…

  2. Kathy says:

    The next time opens his trap and says something that is not false, stupid, idiotic, puerile, ridiculous, hateful, wrong, or a transparent lie, will be the first.

  3. reidr says:

    Kudos on the post. He (and they) has done an astonishingly bad job. So bad that his approval rating actually went a little below 40%. What a country.

  4. JohnMcC says:

    @Liberal Capitalist: You are assuming votes are freely cast and fairly counted. I hope you’re correct. I have what is either justifiable fears or paranoia.

  5. Gustopher says:

    I don’t like conspiracy theories, but if the President wanted to spread covid, how would he have behaved differently? I play with that as a bit of a thought exercise, and as much as I don’t think it’s likely… but unless he is literally incapable of thinking more than a few days in the future, I don’t understand what his goals are and how he hopes to achieve them.

    Did we ever find out where the PPE the feds were seizing ended up?

    Part of why I don’t like conspiracy theories in this case is because Trump does not shut up and says the quiet parts out loud. Which would mean that he’s not in on it, or he would have spilled the beans on national tv by now.

    But if he starts saying that real men lick doorknobs, or that it’s ok because it’s just hitting the cities, I won’t be entirely surprised. I think he’s just amazingly incompetent, but it’s kind of unbelievably amazingly incompetent…

  6. grumpy realist says:

    @Gustopher: Between President Trump’s comments and what has been spewed out by Kanye West, I think we should reconsider the evidence necessary to consider an individual batsh*t insane.

  7. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I’m exhausted. I suspect an exhaustive list would leave me expired.

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Gustopher: Did we ever find out where the PPE the feds were seizing ended up?

    Saudi Arabia?

  9. Michael Bailey says:

    I became slightly nauseated–quite literally–reading these statements. I’ve read them all before, but seeing them back to back to back? Terrifying.

  10. JohnMcC says:

    But…. Her e-mails!

  11. Kathy says:

    What strikes me as exceedingly bizarre is that Trump the Indolent does as little as possible, ignores advice, ignores statistics, ignores facts, plays down the threat, and yet claims he’s done more than anyone else and deserves credit and acclamation for his heroic deeds.

  12. CSK says:

    Trump doesn’t think a few days ahead. He doesn’t think a few hours ahead. He just blurts whatever he thinks he needs to at any given moment. Doesn’t matter if it directly contradicts anything he said previously.

    Trump has so little experience with actual work that he believes that a morning spent tweeting and an afternoon spent watching television or golfing is work.

  13. MarkedMan says:

    I think there is much too much focus on Trump. Of course he is incompetent, he has been ridiculously incompetent his whole life. What is a more serious problem for this country is the almost complete inaction on the part of Congressional Republicans. They simply don’t see any role for themselves in this crisis. Think back to previous challenges we have faced. Congress was out front – changing laws, providing funds for necessary infrastructure and capital goods, engaging in real and meaningful oversight. Post-Reagan Republicans are pro-active only in that they are actively blocking these crucial functions.

    I have said this for years: the Republican Party has become an active harm to the US. It is time to pull them out, root and branch.

  14. Kathy says:

    It looks like starting tomorrow, Trump’s Inappropriate Comedy Hour is back on.

    He seems to need the ratings.

  15. Sleeping Dog says:


    Remember all those private conversations w/Putin?

    Putin: Donald listen this is important.

    The reality host…: rousing from a stupor, What?

    Putin: Xi is going to release a virus that he’ll be able to control in China, but not till it has infected the world.

    The reality host…: Yawning, what does that have to do with me?

    Putin: exasperated You need to see it spreads in the US

    The reality host…: Why would I do that?

    Putin: How much money do you owe Russian and Chinese banks?

    The reality host: Uh, yeah, gottcha.

  16. Sleeping Dog says:

    Axios has this up this morning We Blew It.

    Seems lime a good addendum to Dr T’s post.

  17. CSK says:

    What he really desperately wants and needs is an audience. It must be killing him that he can’t do weekly live rallies.

  18. JohnMcC says:

    @Kathy: He can’t let Chris Wallace have the last word.

  19. de stijl says:

    We’re still in the first wave.

    Quarantining fails if you just stop doing it.

    Folks were stupid high on economic re-opening which led to more spread. Genius move!

  20. Bruce Henry says:

    Not to quibble, but if the virus has infected 3.8 million and killed 143,000, that’s almost 4% mortality, NOT less than 1%.

  21. DrDaveT says:

    @Bruce Henry:

    Not to quibble, but if the virus has infected 3.8 million and killed 143,000, that’s almost 4% mortality, NOT less than 1%.

    Well, sort of.

    Since some of the people who are going to die haven’t died yet, the mortality among the known cases will actually be 4% or more. On the other hand, since lots of people who are/were infected will never be tested, the actual mortality rate is much lower. Less than 1% wouldn’t surprise me.

    Of course, that would still be 3 million dead Americans, if we just let it sweep through…

  22. @Bruce Henry: Not a quibble, and you are correct, the rate is ~3.7%.

    Thanks for noting that.

  23. de stijl says:

    Question to anti-maskers.

    If there was a 3.7% chance you would die today on your commute, would you go?

    Every day is a dice roll.

    (I know I’m fudging the numbers. I’m making a point!)

  24. An Interested Party says:

    A non-exhaustive tour of Trump’s utterances on the pandemic since January.

    Dr. Taylor, you do realize that just about anything involving this person is exhausting…

  25. Hal_10000 says:

    Trump’s various propaganda iterations may have gotten lots of attention but they are nothing compared to the biggest failure: testing. By refusing the WHO’s test, going with a broken CDC test and then dragging his feet on letting private industry develop tests, Trump wasted a critical month. The virus was spreading invisibly throughout the country. And since then we have been continually behind the curve. Even now, it can take a week or longer to get test results.

    The rest matters little to me. Everyone was downplaying the virus in January and early February. The testing was the big thing and it still the big thing.

  26. @An Interested Party:

    Dr. Taylor, you do realize that just about anything involving this person is exhausting…

    Painfully aware.