NBC News contributor Hugh Hewitt has used his talk radio show to become the latest mouthpiece for a right-wing media argument that Democrats are in some way to blame for the coronavirus national emergency because they pursued the impeachment of President Donald Trump in December through February.
In this case, Hewitt — who has often acted as a conduit bringing right-wing conspiracy theories into NBC’s mainstream media venue — seems to have picked up the idea from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)and then run with it further.
The topic came up in an interview when Hewitt and McConnell praised Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) for allegedly having been first to sound the alarm on COVID-19 and warn that the Chinese government’s assurances could not be trusted.
(While any reasonable person could certainly express doubts about the Chinese government’s handling of the crisis and its continued updates on its progress, Cotton has actually gone much further, spreading a debunked conspiracy theory that COVID-19 might have been produced by a “super lab” in a Chinese infectious disease research facility.)
At that point, McConnell began blaming Democrats and the impeachment for contributing to the current national emergency.
In a discussion in the next block, Hewitt returned to McConnell’s argument during a discussion with Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), treating it like a real “debate” going on and challenging reporters to follow up on the idea with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) regarding her criticism of the Trump administration.
First off, the appeal for national unity in a crisis — and specifically invoking the 2008 economic collapse — seems odd coming from a U.S. senator and radio host who both opposed the 2009 stimulus bill under President Barack Obama.
But secondly, the idea that everyone else was distracted by impeachment doesn’t even make sense. The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel points out that all the way back in late January, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was already calling out the Trump administration’s failures to respond properly. (Then-candidate Elizabeth Warren was also laying out a response plan.)
By contrast, during that same time frame, Trump was insisting, “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. We have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.” (And moreover, Trump was even praising the Chinese government’s handling of the situation up through February.)
In short, it was indeed possible to impeach and chew gum at the same time — and while Trump’s attention was “diverted,” a lot of other people had their eyes on the ball.
And here’s another obvious counterargument, courtesy of Max Boot, a conservative writer who has left the Republican Party in the Trump era: