Trump’s early adopters were alarmed over coronavirus

Wednesday, March 25th, 2020

When T.A. Frank’s coronavirus monitoring first kicked into gear, it was thanks to alarming tweets from Mike Cernovich in January:

Because I’d spent several frightening weeks in China and Hong Kong during the SARS outbreak in 2003, I needed no further encouragement to obsess over something reminiscent of it. In the weeks that followed, I began to look for the pronouncements of others who were most out in front of the pack in expressing concern. These included angel investor Balaji S. Srinivasan, geneticist Razib Khan, Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, Trump White House veteran Steve Bannon, Ars Technica cofounder Jon Stokes, Quillette editor Claire Lehmann, entrepreneur Jeff Giesea, author Matt Stoller, and Fox host Tucker Carlson. All of them, I noticed, stood at least a little outside of the mainstream. And a fair number of them were associated with the grassroots energy of Donald Trump’s campaign in 2016.

Here’s what was curious about this final point. Donald Trump, as we all know, spent several weeks downplaying the coronavirus problem and two crucial weeks, starting on February 26, when he suggested the number of cases was soon “going to be down to close to zero,” in outright denial. A whole host of Trump supporters joined the president in pooh-poohing the problem. “Healthy people, generally, 99% recover very fast, even if they contract it,” offered Fox’s Sean Hannity on March 10. Lots of man in the street Trump supporters were just as dismissive. But people like Bannon and Cernovich were not at all on board with Trump’s sinking ship of a message, and in some ways they’re more Trumpist than Trump. What, then, was the difference between Trumpists who followed the president into denial and Trumpists who, 180 degrees to the contrary, were in a vanguard of alarm?

It took me some thought and conversations about this question before I came up with an answer that turned out to be simple: It was Trump’s early adopters, the ones who supported him before he looked like a winner to the rest of the world, who were ahead of the average in expressing alarm over the coronavirus. It was Trump’s late adopters, the ones who would have lined up behind any Republican in power, who carried water for the message of denial.

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