Joni Ernst got the memo: Blame China for COVID-19

“If China hadn’t covered up #Covid19, the effects of this pandemic could have been lessened,” U.S. Senator Joni Ernst posted on her political Twitter feed and Facebook page on April 25. “We need to hold China accountable.”

Her words were practically a carbon copy of how the National Republican Senatorial Committee has advised endangered GOP incumbents to discuss the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Politico’s Alex Isenstadt was first to report on the lengthy memo by the Republican consulting firm O’Donnell & Associates. You can read the document here. Isenstadt noted,

It stresses three main lines of assault: That China caused the virus “by covering it up,” that Democrats are “soft on China,” and that Republicans will “push for sanctions on China for its role in spreading this pandemic.”

“Coronavirus was a Chinese hit-and-run followed by a cover-up that cost thousands of lives,” the April 17 memo states.

The document urges candidates to stay relentlessly on message against the country when responding to any questions about the virus. When asked whether the spread of the coronavirus is Trump’s fault, candidates are advised to respond by pivoting to China.

“Don’t defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban — attack China,” the memo states.

Few politicians are better at staying “relentlessly on message” than Ernst. She put the memo’s advice into practice with this short video posted on Saturday evening.

My transcript:

Hello, this is Joni Ernst. In recent months, we have seen so many bad actions out of China. The first and foremost, of course, is the COVID-19 pandemic. If only they had stood up and alerted the world much sooner, the pandemic could have been lessened.

We need to make sure that we as America are holding China accountable.

Ernst has struck similar notes in other recent tweets and Facebook posts.

Here’s one from her official feed (not the one used for her Senate campaign):

When your party’s flag bearer has been as incompetent as Trump, I see why deflecting blame to China is appealing. As Jonathan Martin and Maggie Haberman reported for the New York Times this weekend, “a cascade of ominous public and private polling have Republicans increasingly nervous that they are at risk of losing the presidency and the Senate […].”

Ernst’s Washington, DC-approved talking points don’t explain why other countries have managed the pandemic more effectively than has the Trump administration. As others have reported exhaustively,

Throughout January, as Mr. Trump repeatedly played down the seriousness of the virus and focused on other issues, an array of figures inside his government — from top White House advisers to experts deep in the cabinet departments and intelligence agencies — identified the threat, sounded alarms and made clear the need for aggressive action.

The president, though, was slow to absorb the scale of the risk and to act accordingly, focusing instead on controlling the message, protecting gains in the economy and batting away warnings from senior officials. It was a problem, he said, that had come out of nowhere and could not have been foreseen.

Blaming China also won’t change the fact that the federal government has failed to distribute enough personal protective equipment to parts of the country in great need, sometimes impeding state efforts to secure PPE for their own health care providers. A Washington Post investigation exposed how “From the Oval Office to the CDC, political and institutional failures cascaded through the system and opportunities to mitigate the pandemic were lost.”

For Republican senators like Ernst, the less said about the Trump administration mistakes, the better.

The GOP strategy memo suggests other “hits” to drive home a winning message.

  • The World Health Organization “aided and abetted the Chinese hit-and-run, and advanced their cover up of the facts–they acted as the handmaiden of the Chinese Communist Party.”
  • “Political Correctness Made this Crisis Worse […] New York and New Jersey became death zones because their Democratic leadership refused to act. They were worried about social justice and identity politics.”
  • “The Democratic party is soft on China […] Democrats are more obsessed with being politically correct and what we call the coronavirus than standing up to China and making sure this doesn’t happen again.”
  • Ernst has already deployed versions of those talking points.

    I expect to hear more along these lines in the senator’s future social media posts, media interviews, and conference calls with Iowa reporters.

    UPDATE: Ernst and Republican Congressional candidate David Young repeatedly hit on these themes during a Facebook live event on April 29, Elizabeth Meyer reported for Iowa Starting Line.

    Ernst, running her first reelection campaign for U.S. Senate, in response to the question — “What ideas do you have/are considering for holding China accountable for their role in the pandemic?” — highlighted the bill she has sponsored to ban taxpayer dollars from being spent at wet markets and the bicameral letter she signed asking Congress to eliminate funding for the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

    “Some people have suspected that it was either the Wuhan lab or those Chinese wet markets that started this current pandemic,” Ernst said. “We want to make sure that we are not sending taxpayer dollars into China and supporting those types of inhumane and unsanitary procedures. We could go on and on and on, of course, about China.”

    Top image: Screen shot from the video Senator Joni Ernst posted on Twitter and Facebook on April 25.

    About the Author(s)

    Laura Belin

    • Some American conservationists were working to try to end China's dreadful endangered-wildlife markets...

      …years before most American had ever heard of them. And if China and some other Asian countries would actually, from now on, enforce their own laws and end the massive illegal trade in endangered wildlife, that would be a silver lining to the covid pandemic and would greatly reduce the danger of new kinds of pandemics in the future.

      But all that has nothing to do with the grossly-incompetent jaw-droppingly-awful mishandling of the pandemic by the Trump administration. And given that the Republican Party has essentially declared war on the environment, including war on wildlife and war on endangered species, it takes a jaw-dropping amount of gall on their part to point to China and the wet markets, raise their eyes piously, and declare that the pandemic is all China’s fault. Wow.