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Trump on Covid-19: “I take full responsibility. It’s not my fault.”

Trump almost took responsibility. Then he didn’t.

President Donald Trump (left) and Democratic Presidential candidate Joe Biden (right) gesture at each other during the final presidential debate on October 22, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee.
Chip Somodevilla/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

President Donald Trump seemed poised to take responsibility for his failure on Covid-19 at Thursday’s presidential debate — and then he didn’t.

“I take full responsibility,” Trump said. He immediately continued: “It’s not my fault that it came here. It’s China’s fault.”

It’s a big contradiction, but it’s emblematic of Trump’s approach to the coronavirus. Time and time again, Trump has tried to downplay the coronavirus and dodge responsibility, all while failing to embrace the kind of messaging and policy approach that experts recommend.

Asked about failures on testing early on, Trump said in March, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” Asked about the 1,000 Covid-19 deaths a day in the US at the time, Trump said in July, “It is what it is.”

Meanwhile, Trump has deliberately downplayed the pandemic, demanded states reopen too quickly, punted problems with testing and tracing down to local and state governments with more limited resources than the federal government, mocked masks, and tried to politicize public health institutions instead of letting science lead the response.

The result: America is faring much worse than many of its developed peers. The US is in the top 15 percent among developed countries for confirmed Covid-19 deaths, and has almost six times the death rate as the median developed nation. If the US had the same death rate as, for example, Canada, nearly 140,000 more Americans would likely be alive today.

Many experts have laid this failure on Trump. “It begins in many ways, and you could argue it ends in many ways, with the Trump administration,” Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, previously told me. “If George W. Bush had been president, if John McCain had been president, if Mitt Romney had been president, this would have looked very different.”

For more on Trump’s failures on Covid-19, read Vox’s full explainer.