INDIANAPOLIS – Our election that culminates on Nov. 3 is about two things: A referendum on President Trump, and the coronavirus pandemic. Here in Indiana, the other executive seeking reelection is Gov. Eric Holcomb, who is a clear favorite. Trump is on thin, thin ice and poised to join Presidents Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush in the defeat column. Trump would rather be talking about anything else than the pandemic.


Let’s go back to late last winter and spring. On March 10, President Trump told Republican senators, “We’re prepared, and we’re doing a great job with it. And it will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.” Three days later at a press conference, Trump became the anti-Truman, telling the nation, “I don’t take responsibility at all.”

President Truman, whose White House desk featured the sign, “The buck stops here,” had been an obscure Missouri haberdasher and then senator when President Franklin Roosevelt elevated him to the ticket in 1944. Within a year, he had not only become president with FDR’s death, but launched the planet’s only atomic attack.

On March 28 and 29, as the nation faced an unprecedented lockdown, Trump, who fashions himself as a “wartime president,” tweeted: “WE WILL WIN THIS WAR. When we achieve this victory, we will emerge stronger and more united than ever before!” On the next day, he said, “Nothing would be worse than declaring victory before the victory is won.”

By April, when epidemiologists began to understand this mysterious microbe, they determined that the simple act of wearing a face mask when in public could save tens of thousands of lives. On April 3, Trump said, “The CDC is advising the use of non-medical cloth face covering as an additional voluntary public health measure. So it’s voluntary. You don’t have to do it. They suggested for a period of time, but this is voluntary. I don’t think I’m going to be doing it.”

In July, Fox News’ Chris Wallace asked Trump, “The CDC says if everybody wore a mask for four to six weeks, we could get this under control. Do you regret not wearing a mask in public from the start, and – will you consider a national mandate that people need to wear masks?”

Trump responded, “No. I want people to have a certain freedom, and I don’t believe in that, no. And I don’t agree with the statement that if everybody would wear a mask, everything disappears.”

Had Trump taken that CDC advice, instead of the 70,000 COVID cases a day we’re currently seeing in the week leading up to the election, the daily toll could have been under 10,000, leaving him poised for reelection. If he had been urging the usage of masks, the Trump and Pence staffs probably wouldn’t have become COVID hotspots.

Compare that to the consistent messaging of Gov. Holcomb, who said on March 16, “This is the beginning. This is real. To those who think we may be overreacting, I can assure you we are not. We are – make no mistake about it –  at war with COVID-19. The state is taking unprecedented actions to slow the spread of COVID-19, and every Hoosier should follow the precautionary measures.”

On March 26, Holcomb was thinking long term: “I hope this will remind us that this isn’t just a marathon. This is a triathlon. This is something that will require us to not let up. We need to do more, not less. It’s all in an effort to get through this so that 100% can go back to work, not just the essential companies.”

On July 1, Holcomb tweeted, “Wearing a face mask is one of the simplest, most effective ways to slow the spread of the virus, but we need everyone to do their part to keep our state safe. That’s why we are asking all Hoosiers to mask up and speak up about how wearing your mask can save lives.” On July 27, he signed an executive order mandating face masks, saying, “This is time sensitive now. This is the next prudent step that we as a state need to take.” It’s an order that persists today, though compliance is spotty.

Indiana has gone from 400 to 800 COVID infections a day to more than 3,000 a day over the past week because the nation did not take seriously the wearing of masks, testing and contract tracing. In fact, Trump and Pence MAGA rallies have become “super spreader events.” A USA Today analysis revealed COVID-19 cases grew at a faster rate after at least five of those MAGA rallies in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which is at hospital capacity and setting up COVID units in parking lot tents.

Beyond the pandemic, President Trump is hemorrhaging Republican and military support. His first secretary of defense, Gen. James Mattis, said last June, “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people;  does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society.”

Dan Coats, former Indiana senator and Trump’s first director of national intelligence, told author Bob Woodward in the book “Rage,” about a conversation he had with Mattis. “The president has no moral compass,” Mattis told Coats. “True,” Coats responded. “To him, a lie is not a lie. It’s what he thinks. He doesn’t know the difference between the truth and a lie.” 

Former Marine Gen. John Kelly, Trump’s former chief of staff, told friends, “The depth of his dishonesty is just astounding to me; the dishonesty, the transactional nature of every relationship, though it’s more pathetic than anything else. He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life.”

Retired Navy Admiral William H. McRaven, who led the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, said, “Today, as we struggle with social upheaval, soaring debt, record unemployment, a runaway pandemic, and rising threats from China and Russia, President Trump is actively working to undermine every major institution in this country. He has planted the seeds of doubt in the minds of many Americans that our institutions aren’t functioning properly. And, if the president doesn’t trust the intelligence community, law enforcement, the press, the military, the Supreme Court, the medical professionals, election officials and the postal workers, then why should we?

“And if Americans stop believing in the system of institutions, then what is left but chaos and who can bring order out of chaos? Only Trump,” McRaven continued. “It is the theme of every autocrat who ever seized power or tried to hold onto it.”

Former Republican Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder said in a USA Today op-ed, “President Trump lacks a moral compass” and “ignores the truth.”

John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, said he will not vote for Biden or Trump and hopes that history remembers Trump “as a one-term president.” Cindy McCain, widow of the 2000 Republican presidential nominee said, “My husband John lived by a code, country first. We are Republicans, yes, but Americans foremost.” She isn’t voting for Trump.

Former President George W. Bush and 2012 Republican presidential nominee Sen. Mitt Romney have publicly said they will not vote to reelect Trump. Romney, the only Republican ever to vote to convict a GOP president in an impeachment trial, observed last February, “In the end, the evidence was inescapable. The president did in fact pressure a foreign government to corrupt our election process, and really, corrupting an election process in a democratic republic is about as abusive and egregious an act against the Constitution – and one’s oath – that I can imagine. It’s what autocrats do.”

Miles Taylor, the LaPorte native, Indiana University graduate and former chief of staff at the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration who was identified as “Anonymous” on Wednesday, said what he had witnessed from President Trump “was terrifying,” saying Trump has been “actively doing damage to our security.”

After a sensational 2020 thus far, featuring Trump’s impeachment trial and acquittal, a pandemic that set off the greatest financial scare since the Great Depression and has killed more than 225,000 Americans, with epidemiology models pointing to a half a million deaths, and President Trump endangering hundreds more with his CDC-violating MAGA rallies, what else could possibly happen with a misogynistic, narcissistic, erratic, and xenophobic president in a second term, unbound by future voter judgement, and employing a compliant C-Team administration? 

Could it possibly be worse than what we’re witnessing today, with the White House science office declaring “ending the COVID-19 pandemic” as the “top accomplishment of President Trump’s first term” even as the pandemic spikes and engulfs our medical systems? Throw in his repeated threats against our “rigged” election process and his unwillingness to commit to accepting the verdict of the American people and the once assumed “peaceful transfer of power” and the dynamic is set for an ongoing disaster.

Could Trump declare victory on Nov. 3 or 4 with millions of absentee ballots still uncounted, and use chaos on the streets to declare martial law? 

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg observed: “In 1973, a United States Air Force officer, Major Harold Hering, asked a question that the Air Force did not want asked. In training to become a Minuteman-missile crewman, Hering asked, “How can I know that an order I receive to launch my missiles came from a sane president?” This was the “forbidden question.”

Richard Nixon, who was president when Major Hering asked his question, was reported to have told members of Congress at a White House dinner party, “I could leave this room and in 25 minutes, 70 million people would be dead.” 

President Trump, who has pronounced himself a “perfect physical specimen,” famously said in Sioux City in 2016, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.”

A second term of Donald Trump’s reality show would be a grave risk for our fragile American experiment in democracy. 

The columnist is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana.