Coronavirus crisis: Governors demonstrate to President Donald Trump how to lead

Here’s a coronavirus quiz. Name the elected Republican leader who began in early March ordering social distancing restrictions before even a single COVID-19 case was diagnosed among his constituents; set precautionary standards for fighting the virus that other elected officials quickly followed to include closing schools, restaurants and bars; and shocked the nation by being the first leader to postpone a primary, telling Americans that the new coronavirus is “a crisis that no one alive has seen.”

Others have since followed suit.

Here’s a clue. The leader wasn’t Donald Trump. During these earlier days of the pestilence, the president was still dismissing any thought of canceling his rallies and comparing coronavirus to the common flu: “Nothing is shut down, life and the economy go on.”

Decisiveness, empathy, wisdom

The answer is Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who — with a cadre of other governors, Democratic and Republican alike — has demonstrated the kind of decisiveness, empathy, wisdom and reassurance that has mostly been lacking from the Oval Office.

After a week of vacillating over whether to extend shelter-in-place guidelines set to expire Tuesday, and after an intervention by his top public health advisers, Trump finally submitted to reality Sunday and extended restrictions recommended by health officials.

GOP CHAIRWOMAN:President is working around the clock to keep Americans safe

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, prepare to deliver a daily coronavirus briefing on March 26, 2020, in Columbus.

DeWine has done anything but vacillate and is a case study in how to connect with a population in a time of crisis. He invites his wife, Fran, to daily COVID-19 briefings to discuss the emotional rigors of isolation. His health director, Amy Acton, is so popular with her detailed graphics and bedside manner that she has her own fan club. And DeWine governs with a strict adherence to hard facts and data.

“The biggest mistakes I’ve made,” DeWine said last week about his leadership style, “have come about because I didn’t get enough facts. I didn’t drill down deeply enough. I didn’t ask enough questions. I didn’t ask the right people.”

72% praise governors, 50% Trump

Across the country, nearly 3 out of 4 Americans praise their own governor’s handling of the pandemic, while only half approve of Trump’s performance. 

The contrasts in leadership can be stark. 

Even as Trump flirted last week with relaxing strictures so that churches can be packed come Easter, governors were discussing or creating regional alliances — one involving Connecticut, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, and another Minnesota, North Dakota and Wisconsin — to broaden social distancing.

Where Trump speaks vaguely each day about dispensing “millions” of masks and dozens of “pallets” of supplies to the states, without detailing where or when the material will arrive and how shortages are being addressed, Illinois Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker posts bar graphs showing precisely the masks, gowns and face shields his health community needs and the number coming in. 

And even as Trump, way back in late February, was promising the virus would disappear one day “like a miracle,” Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan was preparing emergency funding legislation to fight the virus. “I would encourage all Marylanders not to panic, but to take this seriously and to continue to stay informed,” Hogan said at the time. 

‘A ratings hit’

Perhaps more than any other elected leader in the country, New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo has come closest to President Franklin Roosevelt’s legacy of assuring that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Cuomo’s daily briefings from the state hardest hit by coronavirus have become a national balm, in which he carefully uses statistics to explain the virus’ impact, progress and expected decline in the weeks ahead.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the coronavirus temporary hospital on March 24, 2020.

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Sunday, as Trump was bragging that his televised briefings are “a ratings hit,” Cuomo was using graphs to illustrate how the rate of new hospitalizations is starting to slow and hospital discharges are starting to increase. 

Much as COVID-19 strikes down its victims irrespective of class or money, the quality of leadership is not restricted by political affiliation. Those elected to power either have it or they don’t. “When the pressure is on,” Cuomo said at one of his briefings, “is when you see what people are made of.”

Yes, you do.

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