Trump vs Covid-19: Olivia Troye
The US election of 3rd November ended in victory for Democratic candidate Joe Biden, but his opponent was not prepared to give up without a fight. Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the vote may have been alarming, but wasn’t unforeseen after a pugnacious single term characterised by distrust and hostility. In issue 41 of Delayed Gratification we spoke to experts and insiders to get their views on the numerous conflicts fought by the 45th president.
3rd Nov 2020 (Taken from: #41)
This is the third interview in an eight-part series. See the other interviews here.
Director of the Republican Accountability Project and former homeland security advisor to vice-president Mike Pence
Olivia Troye had a ringside seat during the crisis that many believe cost Donald Trump the presidency. In January 2020, before most Americans had even heard of the virus that would soon rip through the country, Troye was hired as a key coordinator on the White House’s coronavirus task force chaired by her boss, Vice President Mike Pence.
Even in those early meetings some members understood that the country faced a “crisis of significant magnitude”, she says. Yet as Covid cases spiked Troye would see the task force’s work constantly undone by the president and his team. “There were people there who believed the virus was a hoax and behaved that way, and unfortunately one of those people was the president of the United States,” she says. “It was so frustrating. A lot of us on the task force were working day and night. [Physician and task force coordinator] Dr Deborah Birx would get up at 4am
every day to put together data sets. But whenever we thought we were making progress or decisions the next thing we knew the president was at a news conference undermining our entire work.”
Troye recalls the infamous 23rd April 2020 press conference at which Trump suggested injecting disinfectant as a Covid treatment. “It was awful,” she says. “I was behind the screen in the press briefing room, and I shut my notebook with frustration and just felt defeated. I remember the anger Dr Birx had when we walked away… I thought to myself, ‘Somewhere tonight there’s going to be a family that is going to try this because they think it works.’”
There were a lot of people there who believed the virus was a hoax”
Troye describes Trump as a “complex person” who at times would be engaging, charming and seemingly keen to learn about the virus. Despite his misleading public statements, he appeared to understand the severity of the situation, but he was easily distracted. “He cannot keep focus on one thing and it’s really all about himself in the end,” she says, adding that the November election was always his priority. “It was so confusing because you see him care, you see him processing, you see him ask questions. But all of a sudden he’s focused on what [Fox News host] Tucker Carlson said and the meeting’s off the rails.”
Troye recalls one task force meeting at which the president suggested that Covid might be a good thing for him because he would no longer have to shake hands with “disgusting people” at his rallies. “I was there thinking to myself, ‘These people adore you and support you unwaveringly… and this is what you have to say about them?’” She was worried that her colleagues would notice her astonished reaction.
Eventually it became too much. Troye wondered if she was doing more to enable the administration’s anti-science stance and misinformation than to help defeat the virus. In August 2020 she resigned and decided to speak out against the Trump administration’s handling of the crisis. It was, she says, “intimidating, nerve-racking and stressful”, and she received death threats. “I was a career intelligence officer and worked for both Democrats and Republicans, but this was a moment like no other,” she says. “I felt that what was being done was so dangerous and detrimental to the safety of Americans that I needed to say truthfully what was going on.”
A month after quitting, Troye appeared in a commercial by an anti-Trump group saying that the president’s disastrous mismanagement of the pandemic had cost lives, and that as a lifelong Republican she would be voting for Joe Biden in the election. The White House response was both predictable – they said she was a low-level staffer who was fired for poor performance – and, she insists, a lie.
Troye is now the director of the Republican Accountability Project, launched in early 2021 with a blitz of billboards and TV ads calling for conservative lawmakers who promoted Trump’s baseless claims of a stolen election to resign. As well as holding Trumpist candidates to account, the group plans to offer its support to Republicans who acted according to their conscience after the election. Troye cites Lisa Murkowski, a senator for Alaska who voted to convict in the second impeachment trial, and who can be expected to face the wrath of Trump loyalists if she runs for re-election in 2022. “We wanted to tell principled Republicans that we have their backs,” says Troye.
Troye is encouraged by the Biden administration’s early moves to tackle Covid. “They’re focused on taking it seriously,” she says. “Just letting the scientists and doctors have their voice back again is critical. Letting them speak truthfully and say ‘This is going to be hard’ is making a huge difference. [But] we just spent an entire year, when it really mattered, wasting time.”
We hope you enjoyed this sample feature from issue #41 of Delayed Gratification
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