ICYMI: Months After North Carolina’s First COVID-19 Case, Dan Forest Still Has No Idea What He’s Talking About
The Atlantic Asks Dan Forest What He Would Do If He Were In Charge Of COVID-19 Crisis
In a new piece from The Atlantic, Dan Forest is asked “exactly what he would have done instead, or what he would do if there’s another outbreak next year.” Despite spending most of his time throwing out vague and ill-thought out criticisms of widely popular Democratic Governor Roy Cooper, Forest has apparently no good ideas of his own:
- Forest admits he was not social distancing during the stay-at-home order and says, “I don’t care about getting a virus. I can get this just like anybody else can get this.”
- Forest has promoted the need to achieve “herd immunity” which would cost countless lives and has been debunked by public health experts as a viable strategy.
- Forest goes against expert opinion “suggesting that the virus’s dangers to all but the elderly and immunocompromised have been exaggerated”. (Of North Carolina’s roughly 10 million residents, 4.5 million of them have pre-existing conditions)
The Atlantic asks Forest if he “were governor next year, would [he] be willing to shut down the state if his health advisers recommended another ‘shelter-in-place’ order.”
Forest’s response was a word salad: “That’s like having a crystal ball. I would say right now, all things considered and all things held equal and maintained going forward, with another round, I would say you’d come forward with recommendations like ‘Work from home if you can.’”
Read the full piece from The Atlantic here.
Forest is struggling to reach voters from the confines of his home. He’s facing an incumbent with a bigger job, a deeper war chest, and a crisis that puts him in front of locked-down constituents nearly every day.
But Forest’s challenge in North Carolina is far greater than Biden’s across America. Although President Donald Trump’s bounce in the polls has already faded, Cooper is enjoying strong public approval for his handling of the coronavirus outbreak. As many as seven in 10 North Carolina voters approve of Cooper’s performance, and they seem to back both his decision to shut down North Carolina’s economy in mid-March and the slower, more cautious approach to reopening that Cooper has taken compared with Republican governors in the surrounding states of South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. Forest has aligned himself with those GOP leaders and pushed Cooper to lift restrictions faster. “I think everything should be open,” he told me when we spoke by phone last week.
Yet Forest appears to be in the minority on reopening, and with recent polls giving Cooper a double-digit lead, a race once expected to be close is looking—for the moment—more like a romp.
“As it stands today, I think everyone would say Cooper is comfortably in the lead,” Pope McCorkle, a longtime Democratic consultant who now runs Duke University’s Polis: Center for Politics, told me.
Cooper’s recent popularity has put Forest, a 52-year-old in his second term as lieutenant governor, in a further bind. The Republican is urging the governor to reopen, promoting the need to achieve “herd immunity” and suggesting that the virus’s dangers to all but the elderly and immunocompromised have been exaggerated. “We know who it is we need to target and protect,” Forest told me. But he backed off his criticism of Cooper’s decision to shut down and has since been hesitant to attack the governor too harshly. Forest has similarly echoed the sentiments of “Liberate” protesters and, during a Zoom call with organizers, encouraged their demonstrations at the state capitol. But he has also kept his distance—physically and politically—from their rallies. “I don’t disagree with what they’re doing,” he said. “But we are not involved in that.”
Forest has been trying to highlight his efforts to help struggling small businesses, to whom he said he’s donated $200,000 in campaign funds. He also traveled to South Carolina to help tornado victims with Samaritan’s Purse, the Christian humanitarian group run by Franklin Graham. Democrats have criticized the trips, circulating videos in which Forest is seen in close contact with people while not wearing a mask. “That’s ludicrous,” Forest replied when I asked him about the criticism. “That’s just stupid leftist talk, when people think that [you should put] social distancing ahead of compassion for people that are hurting.
“I don’t care about getting a virus,” he continued. “I can get this just like anybody else can get this. I can get complications just like anybody else. But when there’s people out there hurting, I’m going to go out there and help them.”
The debate over reopening is anything but hypothetical, even in an election that’s more than five months away. A second wave of infections could crest this fall or even next year, when a Governor Forest—if he wins—would be in charge. And while he has criticized Cooper’s decisions at times, Forest is less clear on exactly what he would have done instead, or what he would do if there’s another outbreak next year.
But when I asked whether Forest, if he were governor next year, would be willing to shut down the state if his health advisers recommended another “shelter-in-place” order, he was less firm. “That’s like having a crystal ball,” he replied. “I would say right now, all things considered and all things held equal and maintained going forward, with another round, I would say you’d come forward with recommendations like ‘Work from home if you can.’”
Cooper has mostly ignored Forest during the crisis, and his office declined to make him available for an interview for this article. In an illustration of how difficult it’s been for the Republican to break through, local reporters have been so focused on the pandemic that the lieutenant governor’s criticism has rarely come up at the governor’s briefings, Cooper aides say. “There’s nothing much he can say that the press will cover,” Wrenn told me.
Privately, Cooper’s aides are dismissive of Forest. They cite his underwhelming fundraising—the governor had nearly $10 million in his campaign at the end of the first quarter compared with less than $750,000 for Forest. “Dan Forest is definitely not the most fearsome candidate,” the person close to the governor told me.
Publicly, Cooper’s campaign is trying to tag Forest as an extremist on the pandemic, highlighting his comments downplaying the danger of the virus to young people and suggesting that it had been exaggerated by the media. “He’s spewing conspiracy theories and encouraging these radical protesters to march on Raleigh with their AR-15s and everything else,” Morgan Jackson, the governor’s top campaign strategist, told me. “That’s not a guy who’s ready to lead. That’s a guy [making] a desperate attempt to appear relevant.”
As to Forest’s call to let younger, healthy people get back to work while protecting the elderly, Jackson noted that at least 4.5 million of North Carolina’s 10 million residents had preexisting conditions. “If you’re going to be an elected official and you strive to be governor, your job is to look after the 10 million people of this state, regardless of whether they watch Fox News,” Jackson said. “If Dan Forest would spend a little bit less time getting advice from doctors who have an MD in Facebook, he might have a better grasp on how to handle this situation.