In crisis, Trump team sees a chance to achieve long-sought goals

Pushing favored policies in a crisis would put Trump in line with his predecessors.

After 9/11, President George W. Bush pushed for counterterrorism measures and regime change in Iraq — long-sought goals of his aides — based on faulty evidence of weapons of mass destruction, an argument that seemed far more potent after the Twin Towers fell.

After the 2008 global financial crisis, President Barack Obama spent his first year in office trying to stabilize the economy, deploying a massive stimulus program that included long-sought programs around the environment and infrastructure. Obama’s team also used the crisis moment to push a progressive agenda on health care, reducing auto emissions and climate change.

“It was still a pretty bold year and not all directly related to Wall Street collapsing,” said Julian Zelizer, a Princeton University professor who studies American political history.

A century ago, President Woodrow Wilson used the 1918 Spanish flu to exert more control over the economy, said Max Skidmore, a professor of political science at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who has studied presidents and pandemics. Wilson’s efforts included leaning on emergency powers and executive orders to control the distribution of food and fuel as well as the railroad.

This strategy of using crisis as a moment of opportunity comes with political risk.

“It only works to take a lot of action in crisis if you are first dealing with basic needs,” Zelizer said. “Otherwise, you look like President George W. Bush did following Hurricane Katrina, when he looked distracted and not dealing with basic problems.”

“Right now, you need to get people hand sanitizer,” he said.

The coronavirus outbreak has given the Trump administration’s China hawks the chance to highlight the a core trade concern — how the U.S. leans so heavily on China for drugs, medical equipment and key elements of the supply chain.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a close Trump ally, is calling for the White House to enact a one-time tax credit for companies that move manufacturing from China back into the U.S., one of many stimulus ideas that Trump advisers and allies are floating amid concerns about an economic downturn related to the spread of the virus.