The coronavirus outbreak has seen Trump add to that total. Here are some of his most misleading – and most often repeated – claims about Covid-19, his administration’s response to the outbreak and what might lie ahead.
‘Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion’
Trump has repeatedly expressed his surprise at the scale of the coronavirus as it spread around the world and raced across the US.
“I would view it as something that just surprised the whole world,” he said in a press conference earlier this month. “Nobody knew there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion.”
In a separate briefing, Trump said: “I just think this is something … that you can never really think is going to happen.”
There is evidence, however, that not only was the Trump administration warned about the potential of a pandemic and its dangers to Americans, it was given a plan on how to deal with it, which it promptly shelved.
During the Obama administration, the national security council drew up a 69-page “playbook on fighting pandemics”, Politico has reported. The document, crafted in the wake of the 2016 Ebola outbreak, contained advice on tracking the spread of a new virus, how to ensure testing was conducted effectively and the need to stockpile emergency resources.
The incoming Trump administration was briefed on the playbook but it was was “thrown on to a shelf”, according to an anonymous official quoted by Politico.
This wasn’t the administration’s only insight into the threat posed by a pandemic. In October, an internal federal government report warned how underprepared and underfunded the US would be in terms of tackling a virus without a cure.
‘It’s going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle – it will disappear’
Trump’s reaction to coronavirus has spanned disbelief, a severe understating of the problem and an optimism that appears unmoored from reality.
In February, Trump said the virus could “maybe go away. We’ll see what happens. Nobody really knows.” He predicted it is “going to disappear. One day it’s like a miracle – it will disappear.”
This position has been repeatedly contradicted by public health experts who predicted the sharp increase in Covid-19 infections, blunted only by social distancing measures and the shut down of large gatherings.
Even in China, which instituted the most severe crackdown on the movement of people, it has taken several months for cases to start tapering off.
“You’ve got to be realistic, and you’ve got to understand that you don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline,” Dr Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said recently.
‘Anybody that needs a test gets a test. We – they’re there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful’
Without basis, Trump has claimed the US has done an excellent job in testing people for the coronavirus. As early as January, the president said the situation was “totally under control”. Just six weeks later the US had emerged as the new global center of the pandemic.
In reality, healthcare providers faced a severe shortage of testing kits as coronavirus hit the US, with the situation exacerbated by faults in the testing system and restrictions on who could actually take a test. A big disparity opened up whereby rich or famous people were able to get tests while others struggled to do so.
Mike Pence, the vice-president, has admitted “we don’t have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand”. Dr Fauci told a congressional hearing the US system was “not really geared to what we need right now” regarding the test kits. He added: “That is a failing. Let’s admit it.”
‘I’ve always known this is a real – this is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic. I’ve always viewed it as very serious’
As is the case with many of Trump’s statements, his claim he has always taken the pandemic seriously deviates wildly from his previous comments. Perhaps most infamously, Trump said “I don’t take responsibility at all” when asked about the faltering US response.
The president has repeatedly downplayed the threat posed by Covid-19, criticising concern over the crisis as a “hoax”, fretting that letting infected Americans off a cruise ship would increase the number of confirmed cases and claiming that only a couple of Americans had it as cases began to soar across the country.
He has compounded this by suggesting social distancing restrictions be lifted around Easter – a timeline wildly out of kilter with public health experts who warn this would cause hospitals to overflow with sick and dying patients.
Americans will have access ‘to vaccines, I think, relatively soon’
In a White House meeting with pharmaceutical company bosses and public health officials, Trump suggested a vaccine for Covid-19 will be available “over the next few months”.
He was contradicted by Alex Azar, the health and human services secretary, who pointed out: “You won’t have a vaccine. You’ll have a vaccine to go into testing.”
Dr Fauci and others at the meeting confirmed that clinical trials – standard for any new vaccine – would have to take place first. A vaccine is more likely to be a year or 18 months away.
Despite being told this, Trump told a rally in North Carolina on 2 March that there will be a vaccine “relatively soon”.
‘I don’t think it’s hoarding, I think it’s maybe worse than hoarding. But check it out’
On more than one occasion in recent weeks, Trump has questioned states’ sudden surge in demand for equipment such as masks and ventilators – essential tools in doctors’ battle against coronavirus.
During his daily White House briefing, the president has said states are “stocked up” with medical equipment, adding: “There’s a question as to hoarding of ventilators, some hospitals and independent hospitals and some hospital chains, as we call them – they are holding ventilators, they don’t want to let ’em up.”
Trump also questioned why hospitals in New York City suddenly needed 300,000 masks when they previously needed 10,000 masks. “So I think people should check that, because there’s something going on, whether – I don’t think it’s hoarding, I think it’s maybe worse than hoarding. But check it out.”
Trump’s re-election campaign has since claimed the president was merely echoing Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor, who has said that he has asked the state police to investigate the theft of masks. But no evidence has been forthcoming on Trump’s seemingly baseless assertion of “hoarding” or “worse than hoarding” by hospitals.
Governors from several states have said they have received just a small fraction of the medical equipment they need to deal with the pandemic. New York, for example, has said it needs tens of thousands of ventilators but has only received a few thousand. The reason for the sudden surge in demand for these items is obvious – there is a pandemic of a new virus that is putting a huge and sudden strain on healthcare systems.
‘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’
On 27 March, Trump made the above claim despite warnings from public health experts that coronavirus should not be conflated with seasonal flu. Fauci, for example, has said that Covid-19 is transferred between people far more easily than the flu and has a mortality rate around 10 times higher.
While there was initial confusion over coronavirus when Chinese authorities described it as an unusual form of pneumonia, the world has been well aware of the dimensions of the virus since January, when China acknowledged the severity of the condition and released the genetic information of Covid-19.