Imagine, if you will, an alternative political universe.
Imagine that President Trump did what he told Bob Woodward he could have done.
Woodward says Trump told him, on tape, that he knew Covid-19 was a deadly virus, but that he didnâ€™t want to panic Americans. So he downplayed the danger.
Set aside your feelings about Trump. Set aside whether he did the right thing. Set aside whether he should have talked so freely with one of the reporters who brought down Richard Nixon.
Instead, imagine a political universe in which Trump did the opposite of what he did.
If he had, he might be cruising to reelection right now.
Imagine that he had said, from day one, that the virus was a serious threat to Americans.
Imagine if he had said that Americans should stay home, stay out of crowds and wear masks.
Imagine if he had said: This will hurt our economy in the short term, but weâ€™ll come back stronger than ever, and we will save lives.
Imagine if he had said: I listen to Dr. Fauci and you should too.
Remember the pre-Covid political world in late January.
Trump had just won the impeachment fight. Joe Biden was struggling to stay alive in the Democratic race. The economy was booming.
Then Covid hit.
Like any President facing an unexpected crisis, Trump had to make the best decision he could with the best information he had.
Those are never easy calls. Think George W. Bush after 9/11. Think Barack Obama after the 2008 financial crash. Think JFK in the Cuban Missile Crisis.
With such decisions, presidencies are made â€“ or broken.
Today, Trumpâ€™s handling of Covid is his biggest election-year liability.
The polling website FiveThirtyEight says Americans disapprove of his handling of the pandemic by 56-40.
A New York Times/Siena College poll last week said that in four key states â€“ Minnesota, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Hampshire â€“ â€œTrump has not managed to overcome his fundamental political vulnerabilities â€” above all, his deep unpopularity with women and the widespread view among voters that he has mismanaged the coronavirus pandemic.â€
If Trump had put on a mask and put up a beat-Covid banner in March, he might be coasting to reelection today.
He went the other way. That decision might cost him the race.
Decisions have consequences.