New best friends: Trump and archfoes Cuomo and Newsom bond in coronavirus crisis

Adversaries-turned-allies try cooperation in adversity

Last Updated:
March 20, 2020 - 9:34am

It’s often said that crises bring out the worst or the best in people.  Adrift in a lifeboat at sea, strangers will either figure out how to cooperate, or kill and eat each other.

It may be that the nation’s capital is being enveloped in a cloud of nice — instead of choosing the kill and eat option.

President Trump suggested as much yesterday when he looked over a slightly-less-packed-than-usual press room. “I like this social distancing,” he mused. “I think it’s making you guys nicer. All these empty spaces …

“You guys over there should probably move further from each other,” he said, flapping his hand at a few reporters, “but it’s nice”

The niceness cloud has also enveloped Trump and a couple of his legendary enemies: California Governor Gavin Newsom, New York  Governor Andrew Cuomo, and President Trump have very recently become the Three Caballeros.

At every press conference — and all three leaders are doing daily COVID-19 press updates — praise is bestowed and compliments showered. There are gratuitous namechecks — as with the lover who feels compelled just to repeat the name of the beloved — and many allusions to late night phone calls when details of policy are apparently being hashed out.

In his press conference yesterday, for instance, as Trump detailed the FDA’s expedited approval of a new virus treatment, he managed to work in the news that he’d spoken with Cuomo “at great, great length last night; he wants to be first in line.”

Considering that he and the governor are now besties, Cuomo will probably in fact be first in line to get the prescription drug to his state’s consumers — just as he’s recently gotten everything on his virus wish list, from a national guard deployment to Westchester County, site of an early hot spot, to a mobile testing drive-through, also for Westchester, to an Army Corps of Engineers deployment, to a Navy hospital ship which will soon be docked in New York Harbor in case New York City runs out of hospital beds.

It’s quite a switch from the days when the two lambasted each other on Twitter or (in Cuomo’s case) from the opinion pages of the New York Times. As recently as February, Trump was lashing Cuomo for his immigration policy via tweet: 

“I’m seeing Governor Cuomo today at the White House. He must understand that National Security far exceeds politics. New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harassment [sic], start cleaning itself up, and lowering taxes. Build relationships, but don’t bring Fredo!” (“Fredo,” an allusion to the ineffectual, overshadowed Corleone brother, is an insulting nickname for Cuomo’s brother, the CNN talking head, which has gone viral.) 

The feud between these two natural opponents had been ongoing for years but intensified on March 15, when Cuomo flung a gauntlet with an op-ed in the New York Times that began: “Dear Mr. President, Every country affected by this crisis has handled it on a national basis. The United States has not.”

After another exchange of insulting tweets, New Yorkers were stunned to hear a surprisingly mellow-sounding Cuomo say in a March 17 press conference about Trump’s virus response:

“His team has been on it. I know a team when they're on it … Late at night, early in the morning, and they've thus far been doing everything that they can do, and I want to say thank you.”

Gavin Newsom has got the love bug too. President Trump does not namecheck Gavin Newsom as much as he does Cuomo, but Newsom — who has excoriated “the corruption and the incompetence in the White House,” has claimed to be “absolutely humiliated” by Trump’s stance on climate policy, and has proudly proclaimed California the “most unTrump” state in the US — is now crowing about the “privilege” of a recent conversation in which the president promised his state more COVID-19 testing swabs. 

“The president assured me, not only assured me, he was aware of where those swabs are being procured before I even offered my own insight,” Newsom burbled. “Not only is he on top of it, but they’re securing and beginning the process of distributing those swabs.”

New Yorkers, as some will recall, experienced the “best of human nature” phenomenon for a few weeks after 9/11. For a few golden weeks passersby on the street made full eye contact and wreathed each other in beatific smiles; they deferred, nay argued, about who should go through a door first. They stopped their cars for bicyclists. By December they’d resumed their self-centered ways.

Enjoy it while it lasts.