PLAYS OF THE PANDEMIC: How Trump, Biden and Their Surrogates Have Spun Covid

January 12, 2022

Alan Kelly recaps his plays with On the Hill’s Tom Fitzgerald.

In the covid era, you’d think the greatest challenge would be more about medicine than politics. But no. The game and gamesmanship of influence looms large as we struggle to contain and explain the virus and the confusion that’s come with it.

By way of the Taxonomy of Influence Strategies, shown below with example plays, consider the handiwork of our presidents, their surrogates, and the plays they’re running.


Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden have employed influence strategies that have spurred and slowed the country’s crisis. The most infamous is Trump’s Deflect where to protect a booming economy he dismissed the virus’ risks and dissed the mask’s benefits, a strategy that shifted the narrative from personal health to personal freedom. To his credit, Trump set a tone for the speedy development of vaccines. His many events with Big Pharma bosses was a Peacock teamed with the Label that booted up and branded Operation Warp Speed.

Joe Biden’s plays have been conciliatory more than combative, though his own Label—a Pandemic of the Unvaccinated—may have done as much to stop those peeing in the nation’s pool as it did to keep them swimming in it. Biden’s principal strategy has been to cheerlead. By way of the Challenge he’s beseeched moms, dads, school kids, teachers, CEOs and fellow politicos to vax up, mask up and make up. We can do this, it’s not about politics, he’s said many times, though without the power and trumpian drama we love and hate and flock to watch.


In the Biden White House responsibility for the public’s education has fallen largely to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and its director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, whose play of choice has been every teacher’s favorite, the Inform. It’s a framing strategy that’s good for education but awful for argumentation. That and vacillating guidance from Walensky’s own team (e.g., quarantine schedules and prevention protocols) have made her vulnerable to right-wing Call Outs.

Likewise, the once spotless reputation of Biden’s chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has been stained, thanks in part to Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who in heated hearings has used the Bait to infuriate Fauci, or try. Armed with facts and figures, Fauci has relied on the play called Contrast to speak past the senator, or try.

There’s far more to know in this made-for-media mayhem. Journalists and opinion makers, bloggers and podcasters, friends and enemies are spinning like tops. Which may be so much of the problem. Too many of us are playing doctor while too few are listening to them.

Post by Alan Kelly

Want to know what plays you’re running? Or what plays are being run on you? Visit the interactive online version of the Playmaker Taxonomy here and let us know what you find.