Ebola Panic of the Day: The Terror Doorknob

If the Ebola panic isn't increasing, how can voters be made properly scared?


Photograph by Getty Images

Marc Thiessen, the former Rumsfeld/Bush speechwriter who now writes a Washington Post column, devoted his latest to the possibility of a terrorist Ebola attack. Thiessen is a little late to the game, frankly—a couple Republican members of Congress have already speculated about terrorists getting all Ebola'd up before jumping on planes that connect through Europe and land in New York, where they spew bioweapons all over crowded spaces. He has confirmed the theory with an expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute -- always good to have a second source -- and taken it further:

Terrorists could collect samples of infected body fluids, and then place them on doorknobs, handrails or airplane tray tables, allowing Ebola to spread quietly before officials even realize that a biological attack has taken place.

Think it can’t happen? If an Ebola-infected Liberian, Thomas Eric Duncan, was able to fly to Dallas, what is to stop an Ebola-infected terrorist from doing the same?

Former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer has also weighed in, asking people not to rule out any threats because they're beyond imagining. Yet there is a problem: The Ebola threat might be containable. Two days ago, the World Health Organization pronounced Nigeria to be Ebola-free. It's been five days since any American was diagnosed with the virus. In Dallas, 43 of the 48 people exposed to patient zero have been cleared. Yes, to look at the CDC's information programs or to watch isolated news reports is to see panic breaking out:

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But it's worth asking what happens, politically, if the Ebola panic fades before election day. Last week, when new cases were diagnosed and CNN et al ran reports of patients boarding planes and cruise ships, Politico's polling reporters judged that "Voters who intend to support Republicans in the most consequential Senate and House elections this November had significantly less confidence in the federal government’s response to the occurrence of Ebola." Yet overall, 61 percent of voters said they had "a lot" or "some" confidence in the government's ability to staunch the spread of the virus. That's in an electorate which believes, by a better than 2-1 margin, that the country is on the wrong track, and believes by varying margins that the president and Congress are failing all over the place. Today's Gallup poll finds voter confidence in the governor's Ebola-handling ability plunging all the way down to... 52 percent, still a majority, as the percentage of people personally worried about getting the virus stays stable at 24 percent.

For a few days now, progressives and Democrats have been girding for a meltdown. All the relevant research on the topics of fear and politics suggests that scared voters are more likely to vote for Republicans. And Republicans have been bundling Ebola into a larger story of "Democratic incompetence," of the same government that can't beat ISIS being dishonest and unable to fight an outbreak. Read Matea Gold on this: Thom Tillis's Senate campaign in North Carolina is bragging outright that the president has refocused voter attention on Washington by botching the crises. Nobody seems ready to act if the crises just sort of... end.