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Republican strategy memo advises GOP campaigns to blame China for coronavirus

‘Don’t defend Trump,’ the memo says. ‘Attack China.’

A new Republican strategy memo advises Senate candidates to blame China for the coronavirus outbreak, link Democrats to the Chinese government and avoid discussing President Trump’s handling of the crisis.


The 57-page memo, drafted by a D.C.-area GOP strategist, was distributed to campaigns this month by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. It’s existence was first reported Friday by Politico.


If asked whether Trump is at fault for the nation’s unpreparedness as the virus spread, the candidates are told, “don’t defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban — attack China,” according to the memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. The memo urges Republicans to acknowledge that U.S. public health officials “acted late,” then say that is China’s fault.


“The virus came from China and China covered it up,” the memo suggests the candidates say. They can add: “I wish that everyone acted earlier — that includes our elected officials, the World Health Organization, and the CDC.” It also encourages candidates to commend Trump for enacting a travel ban to China.


The advice to down-ballot candidates is consistent with an ongoing Republican effort to brand presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden as “soft” on China. The Trump campaign and a pro-Trump super PAC have each released ads linking Biden with China, the latter even created a website called “BejingBiden” to highlight the former vice president’s alleged ties.


The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee slammed Republicans over the memo. Republican senators are relying on these talking points because “they can’t defend their own records, and they’ve been told not to defend the president,” said DSCC spokesperson Helen Kalla. “Ignoring warnings from the intelligence community, sending PPE to China, and failing to properly prepare the country — that’s the legacy of this administration and the Republican Senators who continue to support it.”


NRSC spokesman Jesse Hunt said, “We routinely send campaigns different documents and sources of information dozens of times per week. That’s the role of the party committee, especially in these volatile times.”


So far this campaign cycle, the NRSC has paid $160,000 to the consultancy firm of Brett O’Donnell, which drafted the document, according to Federal Election Commission data.


“Under President Trump’s leadership, Republicans gained more Senate seats than any president in midterm elections in the last 50 years,” Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director, said late Saturday in a statement. “The senators are getting bad advice from Brett O’Donnell and are well aware that President Trump has unprecedented support from Republicans nationwide. They will need that enthusiasm to be successful in November.”


The Biden campaign put out its own China-focused ad this week, hitting Trump over his praise of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s handling of the virus. In the ad, Biden says he would have been much tougher on the Chinese government’s lack of transparency.


Asian Americans have criticized both politicians for using China as a political cudgel, which they say perpetuates racism.


As the disease began to take hold in the United States, Asian lawmakers urged officials not to reference it as the “China virus” or the “Wuhan virus,” after the city where it originated. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.) sent a letter to her congressional colleagues on Feb. 26 urging them to stop using terminology that stokes fear and prejudice against Asian Americans.


“Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have seen a surge of discriminatory rhetoric and violent attacks against Asian Americans across the country,” Chu wrote in a letter signed by members of the Asian Pacific American Caucus. She added: “Even just looking Asian has been enough to incite attackers to hurl insults and accuse individuals of being disease carriers.”


The memo encourages Republicans to use these kinds of concerns to suggest Democrats “are more obsessed with being politically correct … than standing up to China and making sure this doesn’t happen again.”


It also provides GOP candidates with how to respond if asked whether this focus on blaming China is racist. They are to say that, “No one is blaming Chinese Americans. This is the fault of the Chinese Communist Party for covering up the virus and lying about [its] danger. This caused the pandemic and they should be held accountable.”

Colby Itkowitz is a national politics reporter for The Washington Post. She’s also covered health policy, anchored the ‘Inspired Life’ blog and co-wrote the ‘In the Loop’ column. She joined the Post in March 2014.




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