Donald Trump's Fiercest Critics Now Agree With His COVID Fighting Strategy

"There is no federal solution," President Joe Biden told the nation's governors last week while addressing surging COVID cases from the Omicron variant, the latest wrinkle in the coronavirus pandemic. "This gets solved at the state level."

That's exactly what then-President Donald Trump said in 2020. While campaigning for the presidency, Biden accused Trump of "not having a plan" to beat COVID, while he himself did. Now, with this apparent reversal of his campaign message, Biden seems to be channeling the position championed by his predecessor, who said in April 2020 that the federal government should be a "backstop" for whatever states chose to do to control their health emergencies.

"My message to the governors is simple. If you need something, say something," Biden said on Dec. 27.

Trump's handling of the pandemic was widely criticized—by Democrats, the media, foreign allies and adversaries as well as some in his own party. It was a key factor, perhaps the decisive factor, in his election defeat at the hands of Biden in November.

Biden's tacit acknowledgment that Trump was right about the scope of a federal pandemic response and his explicit praise of Trump's messaging on vaccines last month begs the question: What else might Trump have been right about?

Trump, of course, did get some things horribly wrong. His rambling press conferences veered into misinformation including when he suggested that injecting people with disinfectant could help fight COVID. His embrace of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID treatment mystified many in the medical community. Trump was wrong to praise China in early 2020 on its handling of the outbreak. And he deliberately downplayed the risk of the virus in public after receiving intelligence on the real scope of the catastrophe. For these missteps and miscalculations, he was rightly condemned.

But some of Trump's other widely criticized positions on the pandemic now appear more sensible, and possibly even prescient. Some have been adopted by his fiercest critics in the media and by politicians who opposed him.

donald trump, covid19, white house, coronavirus, getty
Former President Donald Trump's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was widely criticized, but it appears some of his positions were correct. Above, Trump looks out from the Truman Balcony upon his return to the White House from Walter Reed Medical Center, where he underwent treatment for COVID-19, in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 5, 2020. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

Vaccines

Trump said multiple times during 2020 that his "Operation Warp Speed" would have a vaccine ready by year's end. Fact checkers throughout the media landscape (along with Dr. Anthony Fauci) described the prediction as false or misleading.

Kamala Harris, running for vice president at the time, was asked on CNN on Sept. 7, 2020, if she'd use a vaccine developed via Warp Speed, and she said, "I think that's going to be an issue for all of us. I would say that I would not trust Donald Trump." Biden, running for president, said on Aug. 6, 2020, that a Warp Speed vaccine "is not likely to go through all the tests ... and trials that are needed." In May that year, an NBC News fact check declared that "experts say that the development, testing and production for the public is still at least 12 to 18 months off, and that anything less would be a medical miracle." But seven months later, in December, 2020, the FDA issued Emergency Use Authorization for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines and the first shots were administered on Dec. 15, just as Trump had predicted.

Biden and White House spokesman Jen Psaki both acknowledged his role in the vaccination effort after Trump repeatedly promoted booster shots, to the chagrin of some in his base, this month.

Wuhan Lab Theory

Trump was dismissed as a conspiracy theorist and denounced as a racist for pinning the blame for COVID on China and promoting the theory that the virus may have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Social media platforms and many media outlets called it "settled science" that he was incorrect.

A year later, the narrative has shifted. Trump's suspicion of the Wuhan lab is now mainstream. International anger at China's obfuscation of the origins of the pandemic boiled over. Biden ordered US intelligence agencies to investigate the origins of the pandemic, including the lab leak theory. And while that investigation was inconclusive, a group of amateur sleuths known as DRASTIC has compiled a lot of evidence that suggests the science of the lab leak theory is anything but settled.

Thanks to DRASTIC, we now know that the Wuhan Institute of Virology had an extensive collection of coronaviruses gathered over many years of foraging in the bat caves, and that many of them—including the closest known relative to the pandemic virus, SARS-CoV-2—came from a mineshaft where three men died from a suspected SARS-like disease in 2012. We know that the WIV was actively working with these viruses, using inadequate safety protocols, in ways that could have triggered the pandemic, and that the lab and Chinese authorities have gone to great lengths to conceal these activities. We know that the first cases appeared weeks before the outbreak at the Huanan wet market that was once thought to be ground zero for the pandemic.

None of this proves that the pandemic started in the Wuhan lab, of course: it's entirely possible that it did not. But the evidence assembled by DRASTIC amounts to what prosecutors call probable cause—a strong, evidence-based case for a full investigation.

These developments have forced some awkward U-turns on Trump's critics. Newspapers corrected stories, Facebook stopped censoring posts suggesting the virus could have been manmade, and PolitiFact yanked a "fact check" calling the lab-leak theory "debunked."

On May 11, 2021, Fauci was asked by Senator Rand Paul on Capitol Hill if the virus might have emanated from the Wuhan lab and Fauci answered, "The possibility certainly exists, and I am totally in favor of a full investigation."

Lockdowns

Trump opposed any federal lockdown. After the end of the New York wave of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, he encouraged reopening across the country, supported anti-lockdown protesters in largely Democratic states and repeatedly said the "cure should not be worse than the disease," referring to the social and economic consequences of COVID restrictions. Trump's many detractors at the time included Biden.

The Biden administration wasted no time outlining its plans to deal with the coronavirus, which included increased COVID testing, a national mask mandate and the possibility of nationwide lockdowns.

"We're still facing a very dark winter ..." said President-elect Biden during a televised message while naming his COVID-19 advisory board. It included former Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy, who in an interview with ABC News didn't rule out a lock-down. Biden advisor Dr. Michael Osterholm in an August New York Times op-ed argued for a national lockdown to shut down the virus if the government paid workers lost wages.

By the fall of 2021, Biden and most in his administration were on Trump's side of the argument.

In announcing his COVID winter action plan in December, Biden explicitly said it would not include shutdowns or lockdowns, but rather focus on vaccines, boosters and testing.

"... It doesn't include shutdowns or lockdowns but widespread vaccinations and boosters and testing and a lot more," said Biden during public remarks, noting five key actions he'd be taking, including expanding the national booster campaign, launching new vaccination clinics and making free at-home tests more available. "The bottom line: This winter, you'll be able to test for free in the comfort of your home and have some peace of mind."

Remote Learning

In May 2020, Trump called for schools to reopen as soon as possible. Later, in July, he again stressed the reopening of schools while teachers' unions and many Democrat leaders pushed for remote learning, citing on-the-ground complexities and confusion over the transmission of the virus.

Last January during a press conference, Biden insisted he wanted schools to reopen when it was safe to do so, echoing at the time the sentiments of the national teachers' union.

Since then, an analysis by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company showed the impact on K-12 learners was significant. On average, students who received their education through remote learning were five months behind in mathematics and four months behind in reading by the end of the school year. It also found evidence that remote learning contributed to learning challenges and was especially difficult for students with learning challenges and a lack of resources.

Pre-existing achievement gaps were widened while high-school-age kids have become more likely to drop out and seniors less likely to go to college or post-secondary educational programs.

Additionally, the research described the emotional well-being of students as deteriorating overall with greater than 35 percent of parents concerned over their child's mental health.

"We want our children in school, and we are going to take new steps to make sure they stay—it stays that way," said Biden during his December press conference, noting the CDC's review of approaches like "test to stay" policies, which would allow students to stay in the classroom and be tested frequently when a positive case appears. Biden also emphasized to parents to vaccinate their children.

During remarks he made from the White House Tuesday, Biden again stressed the importance of vaccines, booster shots and masking as Omicron variant cases continue to surge and said he was committed to keeping schools open.

"We know that our kids can be safe when in school," Biden said after meeting with the White House COVID-19 response team as reported by Newsweek. "That's why I believe that schools should remain open."

He also said that schools across the U.S. should have the necessary resources to continue in-person instruction from the American Rescue Plan, which was passed last March. That's as more than 2,700 schools remained closed this week following the winter break after new cases skyrocketed over the holidays when many were gathering inside.

Travel Restrictions

On Jan. 31, 2020, Trump said that beginning on Feb. 2, he'd severely restrict travel to and from China, where COVID originated. The announcement led Biden to tweet that "we are in the midst of a crisis with the coronavirus. We need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump's record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering," while the World Health Organization issued a "recommendation against travel restrictions," and several media outlets parroted the opinion. Vox, for example, wrote just prior to Trump's announcement that "the evidence on travel bans for diseases like coronavirus is clear: They don't work." But in April, Biden followed the lead of other countries and the U.S. issued new restrictions on travel to and from China, and Vox added a note to its 14-month old story that read: "This article, published in January 2020, does not reflect emerging science around travel restrictions to prevent the spread of epidemics."

In late November, the U.S. joined more than a dozen other countries instituting travel bans from South Africa and seven other nations in response to the new COVID-19 variant Omicron.

Sticking With Fauci

Fauci is loathed by Trump's base and many on the right. While still in office, rumors swirled that members of his staff tried to undermine the doctor.

Admiral Brett P. Giroir, the assistant secretary for health and a fellow member of the coronavirus task force, said in July of 2020 on NBC's Meet the Press that Dr. Fauci "is not 100 percent right, and he also doesn't necessarily — and he admits that — have the whole national interest in mind."

"Dr. Fauci looks at it from a very narrow public health point of view," added Giroir.

Still, Trump showed no indication that he was tempted to fire Fauci and even expressed confidence in the doctor at critical times during the pandemic.

At one point earlier on in March, Trump complimented Fauci and the job he was doing but later in July said in an interview with Fox News' Sean Hannity, "Dr. Fauci is a nice man, but he's made a lot of mistakes."

It was an uncharacteristic show of restraint on Trump's part that avoided another ferocious political battle at a time when the president and country could least afford it.