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This Is the Entire 2020 Election in One Screenshot

April 1, 2020
This Is the Entire 2020 Election in One Screenshot
(Illustration by Hannah Yoest / Shutterstock)

On February 5, Democratic Senator Chris Murphy left a Trump administration briefing on the Coronavirus and fired off a tweet: “Bottom line. They aren’t taking this seriously enough…Local health systems need supplies, training, screening staff.”

On March 9 Donald Trump—with access to an additional month’s worth of data and intelligence—fired off a tweet of his own…comparing the virus to the flu and suggesting that “life and the economy go on.”

Taken together, it looks like this:

That’s it. That’s the Democrats’ case for November.

Sure there will be plenty of sturm und drang and controversy along the way.

People will argue about the Supreme Court and tax rates and climate change and foreign policy.

Joe Biden will point to his January 27 op-ed on how Trump is the “worst possible leader” to deal with a pandemic and his own plan to combat coronavirus through the fall and winter. He’ll bring Obama on the campaign trail. Talk about how Obamacare was a big effing deal. He’ll call people Jack. He’ll run hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ads emphasizing his empathy and competence.

Donald Trump will invoke Hunter Biden and socialism and Hillary’s emails and the Crime Bill and Hunter Biden again and he’ll call him Sleepy China Joe and he’ll meme Biden sniffing women’s hair and talk about how great the economy was before the invisible foreign enemy that nobody could have predicted came ashore just to ruin his presidency while he was fighting off the impeachment witch hunt hoax.

He’ll demonize immigrants and run Facebook ads attacking the free healthcare Joe wants to give to the caravan of Wuhan Flu infected Chinese ISIS members about to cross the border any minute now.

But in the end this will be a country decimated by a pandemic. Tens of thousands of Americans will be dead. International travel will be a distant memory. If we are incredibly lucky, we’ll have an economy that is slowly rebounding, but there will still be millions of people suffering increased financial hardship.

With pain and devastation at that scale, nothing else is going to break through. The election will hinge on one question: Did Donald Trump do everything a president should have done to keep America safe from the pandemic?

So for Trump, that means he’ll have to convince the country that there’s an American resurrection taking place. (No longer happening on Easter Sunday.) It’s a complicated argument that depends on having favorable facts on the ground and avoiding any responsibility for the disaster in the first place.

For the Democrats there’s simply this screenshot. Here, take a look at it again:

Nothing complicated. There’s really not much more to say. The president had all the information about the threat of the virus at his fingertips in February. The Democrats said he wasn’t taking this threat seriously and pressed him into action. It’s all right there, in their own words, with time stamps and everything.

Instead of acting Trump spent over a month live tweeting cable news and retweeting crackpot science takes from the actor James Woods.

You can dig through other people’s attempts to defend Trump until they turn into a corncob but what happened is right there, clear as day, in one screen shot.

This is not to say that Donald Trump will lose and Joe Biden will win. Things happen. A rally around the flag effect could spur the incumbent to victory. The Russians or Chinese could put their fingers on the scale. Or the virus could still be prevalent enough that voting is hard, turnout is scrambled, and the results are a crapshoot.

But the frame and the discussion of why our country had such pain inflicted on it will overwhelm any other case to be made against either candidate. And the campaign battlelines have already been drawn. The case against Trump is this:

“Bottom line: They aren’t taking this seriously enough.”

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.