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Fox News’ weekend programming isn’t its calling card, but it may be having a significant impact on the course of the U.S. government’s coronavirus response.

Since Sunday night, President Donald Trump has telegraphed newfound sympathy for the idea of a less-aggressive effort to combat the corona-virus once the current 15-day plan expires.

He also spent Monday morning retweeting a bunch of people who suggested that the restrictions on the U.S. economy be lifted after the 15-day period. One of them was a user who recommended, “15 days, then we keep the high-risk groups protected as necessary and the rest of us go back to work.”

As is often the case, you can trace this increasingly relevant Trump sentiment to Fox News. Trump’s comments echo the rhetoric used by weekend host Steve Hilton on Sunday’s show, in which he urged the federal government to “flatten the coronavirus curve, but not the economy, before it’s too late.” Hilton also used the same medical analogy as Trump: “You know, that famous phrase: The cure is worse than the disease?”

“I want to focus tonight on what I think is an even bigger crisis” than coronavirus, Hilton said on Sunday’s show. “And that is the economic, social and above-all human costs of the total shutdown policy.”

He continued: “Just as the spread of corona-virus creates a curve of the number of people infected, this economic shutdown is creating a curve of the number of people affected—losing their jobs, their homes, their businesses.”

And: “You think it is just the coronavirus that kills people? This total economic shutdown will kill people.”

But on Sunday morning, former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon appeared on the show of Maria Bartiromo—another Trump favorite—and offered a polar-opposite recommendation from Hilton et. al. Bannon urged Trump to instead shut things down completely.

“My recommendation … is to drop the hammer,” Bannon said. “Don’t mitigate the virus. Don’t spread the curve. Shatter the curve and go full hammer on the virus right now, with a full shutdown.

“General Patton said a simple plan violently executed today beats a more complicated plan that takes months and months to execute … . If you’re going to go through hell, let’s go through it as fast as possible.”

Another Trump ally hoping for a very different course is Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) After this piece posted Monday morning, he tweeted it and sent a pretty clear message to Trump. Graham said, “I’m making my decisions based on health-care professionals like Dr. [Anthony] Fauci and others, not political punditry.”

There is a very valid question about where you set the line on economic consequences versus societal impact, and it’s one the government will need to address moving forward. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also signaled Monday he’s beginning to think about it. He said young people might return to work sooner than older ones.

“How do you restart or transition to a restart of the economy, and how do you dovetail that with a public health strategy?” Cuomo said as he described his thought process.

But there are increasing reports that Trump’s positioning is giving health officials fits, as he flirts with lifting the harsher measures that they say are necessary to prevent a fuller health-care crisis. And it’s a tension we could have predicted we’d see.

Trump had to be dragged kicking and screaming into acknowledging the threat posed by the coronavirus and initially seemed more worried about its impact on the stock market than anything else. The conspiracy theorist in chief has long abhorred the advice of experts and charted his own path, and there’s no guarantee he would continue taking their advice—particularly if he perceived the economic impact as an electoral liability. And if Trump truly thought the coronavirus was overblown before, do we really think he has totally kicked that notion?

The 15-day period expires in about a week. And it’s difficult to overstate how important Fox’s coverage of this subject will be over the remainder of that time—along with how much Trump’s choice of programs and talking heads might shift the course of a pandemic. You never know whose arguments are going to speak to him and which hosts might most effectively tell him what he wants to hear at any given point.

Print Headline: Much too early, Mr. President

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