Political Leadership During A Crisis such as the Coronavirus

Dr. Louis Perron
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I don’t want to sound cynical, but a crisis can actually be an opportunity for a political leader in an executive position. During a crisis, viewer- and readership of the news usually shoots up and people are much more informed about what their leaders are actually doing the entire day. While the practice of crisis management is extremely challenging, the theory and the manual are actually quite clear: During a time of crisis, a president, prime minister, governor or mayor has to act quickly. He or she has to be on top of things and release emergency funds. Let facts and science be the basis of decisions and give the experts everything they need. A leader should hit the right tone in his crisis communication. And it’s also an opportunity for a political leader to show that he or she stands above partisanship.

How is Donald Trump doing so far? The things I just described might actually be a challenge to pull off for somebody like Donald Trump. And indeed, it seems to me that the White House has not yet found a coherent strategy. After weeks of downplaying the coronavirus, Trump has shifted in crisis management mode last week. Let’s see how long it will last.

The particularity of this crisis is that it will preoccupy many or most of us for weeks and months to come. It’s practically impossible that it will disappear from the news in a few days. Thus, Trump’s management of the corona crisis might actually turn out to be crucial with respect to his prospects of winning reelection. His job approval rating stands at 45%, which is already dangerously low for an incumbent. A difference of a few percentage points might make a big difference for his reelection campaign.

As for the Democratic primary, I think that the race is basically decided. I don’t see what Bernie Sanders could do in terms of messaging or tactics to turn this thing around. And I doubt that the voters will be much interested in the primary campaign during the corona crisis. Unless Joe Biden self-destructs anytime soon (which I would not put past him and is probably one of the reasons why Sanders actually stays in the race), I say this: Call the dogs in, the hunt is over.

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