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The coronavirus crisis is hurting Donald Trump’s chance at a second term, Florida Insiders say

‘The lack of preparation has been baffling,’ one Republican said.

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The following originally appeared in The Buzz, a weekly newsletter from Tampa Bay Times political editor Steve Contorno and the politics team. Click here to subscribe.

The Rundown: The American people will decide in eight months whether to re-elect President Donald Trump, and the coronavirus has not only tested his leadership, it brought to a halt the economy he planned to run on.

For those reasons, nearly eight in 10 of Florida Insiders believe the world pandemic has hurt Trump’s bid for another four years.

“The lack of preparation has been baffling,” one Republican said. “It does not inspire confidence when a major national crisis seems to be fumbled so badly. Trump and his off-the-cuff approach and loose association with facts has not helped at all.”

The Tampa Bay Times surveyed 160 of Florida’s most plugged-in politicos — former elected leaders, campaign operatives, activists, lobbyists, fundraisers and other experts from both parties — about the coronavirus for our monthly Florida Insider poll. More than half gave the Trump administration a D or F on its handling of the coronavirus crisis to date. Only 8 percent said he deserves an A.

“The virus isn't political,” a Democrat wrote. “MAGA country will be infected too, and they'll finally see how ineffective the Trump administration is.”

In places like Florida, health officials don’t know how many people have the virus because not enough people have been tested.

Not passing the test. Some crises present an opportunity for leaders to rise to the occasion. But many Insiders said it has instead exposed the most troubling of Trump’s tendencies.

“Trump spent valuable time calling the virus a hoax and a Democratic plot,” one nonpartisan Insider said. “In doing so, he lost time when governments, businesses and people could be preparing.”

Lately, Trump has heeded advice from experts and taken steps to reduce travel and stop the spread. But he’s also trying to rewrite history, claiming, “I’ve always known this is real.” PolitiFact rated that Pants on Fire.

As one Republican put it: “You can’t ‘fake news’ away coronavirus.”

Another Republican said the effects are still being felt from the early response, when Trump downplayed the virus as a “very little problem” that would swiftly subside. Trump “dangerously persuaded thousands of Republicans that coronavirus is an over-hyped scare tactic fueled by Democrats and the deep state,” he wrote. “I still hear that all the time from Republicans, even as Trump finally started acknowledging the seriousness of the pandemic.”

Dissenting voices. About 13 of 160 said the coronavirus crisis would ultimately help the president make his case for a second term. How?

“The average American looks to the president, regardless of who it is, for leadership in times of crisis,” one Republican said. “From his oval office address, to the daily press conferences, to the Rose Garden speech, to the National Day of Prayer, President Trump has delivered high profile leadership.”

Another Republican said Trump’s daily press briefings with his coronavirus team have helped strip the media’s ability to write the narrative of the administation’s response. “As tragic and scary as the news is, I find comfort in America coming together and being kept informed by the real time experts who are in charge,” she said.

One Democrat agreed with most Insiders that Trump is in trouble, but he said his party doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on, either.

“Trump was late on this but so were the Democrats, who were self-absorbed with impeachment and primaries,” he said. “The signs were there in mid-February but too many were not paying attention.”

The R word. With the stock market tanking and so many businesses closing as people shelter at home, there is great fear that a recession is next. Our Insiders expect it: 87 percent said it is coming.

That, too, spells trouble for the president.

“Find me a President as historically unpopular as Trump winning re-election in a recession,” one Republicam said.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, and Lieutenant Governor Jeanette Nunez speak at a news conference, at Jackson Memorial Hospital, Thursday, March 12, 2020, in Miami. DeSantis noted that most of the Florida infections from the virus, which causes the disease COVID-19, stemmed from international travel. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee) [WILFREDO LEE | AP]

What about Ron? This is Gov. Ron DeSantis’ first real crisis as a governor and about 60 percent of respondents said he deserves an A or B so far, while just 16 percent said the Republican leader isn’t passing.

This week, DeSantis closed the bars and canceled K-12 testing. Six in 10 Insiders said closing bars was a good call (though they would’ve closed restaurants, too).

“The state government was slow to offer real time information on the status of cases in Florida, but the governor seemed to step in and now they are on top of regular updates,” one Democrat said. “Overall, the governor has handled this very well. A stark contrast to the unsteady and haphazard Trump administration.”

Not everyone agreed.

“DeSantis waited 24 hours before notifying the public (about a coronavirus case) so he could fly to Tampa and hold a press conference because he wanted to look like a leader,” said a Democrat who gave DeSantis an F. “Then he attacked public health experts who rightly claimed there was community spread.”

There’s bipartisan agreement on one thing. Seven in 10 of those polled said Florida lawmakers didn’t do enough to address the coronavirus before they wrapped up this year’s session last week.

“Honestly, I don’t know what the legislature has even done on coronavirus,” one Democrat wrote.

One Republican urged lawmakers to put money in the rainy day fund now. “It will be a long year.”

This month, 75 Democrats, 71 Republicans and 14 people registered “no party affiliation” or with another party responded to the poll. They were:

Erin Aebel, Tom Alte, Jason Altmire, Gayle Andrews, Peter Antonacci , Scott Arceneaux, Dave Aronberg, Brad Ashwell, Jon M. Ausman, Ryan Banfill, Christina Barker, Scott Barnhart, Patrick Baskette, Geoffrey Becker, Samuel Bell, Allan Bense, Wayne Bertsch, Taylor Patrick Biehl, Greg Blair, Katie Bohnett, Bob Buckhorn, Tim Canova, Alberto Cardenas, Gabriela Castillo, Betty Castor, Mitch Ceasar, Alan Clendenin, Brad Coker, Gus Corbella, Brian Crowley, Husein Cumber, Fred Cunningham, Carlos Curbelo, David Custin, Justin Day, Richard DeNapoli, Pablo Diaz, Tony DiMatteo, Doc Dockery, Bob Doyle, Pete Dunbar, Barry Edwards, Eric Eikenberg, Mike Fasano, Peter Feaman, Mark Ferrulo, Damien Filer, Terry Fleming, Mark Foley, Pamela Burch Fort, Brian Franklin, Keith Frederick, Ellen Freidin, John French, Jack Furnari, Eduardo Gamarra, Wayne Garcia, Stephen Gaskill, Steve Geller, Richard Gentry, Julia Gill Woodward, Susan Goldstein, Cindy Graves, Ron Greenstein, Thomas Grigsby, ralph haben, Mike Hamby, Marion Hammer, Chris Hand, Abel Harding, James Harris, Jeff Hartley, Jack Hebert, Rich Heffley, Cynthia Henderson, Ann Herberger, Laura Hernández , Don Hinkle, Jim Horne, Tyler Hudson , Yolanda Jackson, Aubrey Jewett, Jeff Johnson, Eric Johnson, David Johnson, Stafford Jones, Eric Jotkoff, Doug Kaplan, Fred Karlinsky, Henry Kelley, John Konkus, Chris Korge, Kartik Krishnaiyer, Bill Lee, Jackie Lee, Matt Lettelleir, Jack Levine, Beth Leytham, Shannon Love, Javier Manjarres, Roly Marante, William March, Beth Matuga, Kim McDougal, Nancy McGowan, Kathy Mears, Jamie Miller, Travis Moore, Lucy Morgan, Pat Neal, Samuel Neimeiser, Bridget Nocco, Alex Patton, Darryl Paulson, Jorge Pedraza, Juan Penalosa, Evelyn Perez-Verdia, Joe Perry, Ron Pierce, JC Planas, Evan Power, Nan Rich, George Riley, Jim Rimes, Terrie Rizzo, Jason Rosenberg, Sarah Rumpf, Ron Sachs, Steve Schale, Jack Seiler, Mel Sembler , Stephen Shiver, Bud Shorstein, Kyle Simon, Alex Sink, Patrick Slevin, Adam Smith, Dan Smith, Susan Smith, Eleanor Sobel, John Stemberger, Alan Stonecipher, Phillip Thompson, Greg C. Truax, Frank Tsamoutales, Greg Turbeville, Jason Unger, Karen Unger, Ashley Walker, Peter Wallace, Nancy Watkins, Screven Watson, Andrew Weinstein, Susie Wiles, Jamie Wilson, Rick Wilson, Leslie Wimes, Jon Woodard, Mark Zubaly

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus coverage

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