Across the Atlantic, the crisis supercharged the president’s tendency to dismiss science, politicize the most technical of issues and institutions, and eschew international cooperation. He also muddied any consistent federal role or messaging by imposing himself in some areas while disclaiming responsibility in others, and by diverting attention to other issues with as many as 126 tweets in a day.

It isn’t clear whether voters will see the resulting chaos as failure on Trump’s part when they decide whether to re-elect him on Nov. 3. In the latest Quinnipiac University poll, released on Wednesday, 50% of registered voters said they backed presumed Democratic nominee Joe Biden, against 39% for Trump.

Losing Faith
China’s response revealed two core weaknesses of Xi and the one-party system he leads, according to Willy Lam, adjunct professor at the Center for China Studies in the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The first is a lack of transparency, from lowly officials reluctant to pass bad news upward for fear of damaging their careers, to Xi and other party leaders determined to announce only success.

The delays this caused in tackling the disease before it could spread abroad have cost Xi in terms of international soft power, says Lam. They also handed ammunition to Trump, as he sought to place blame for U.S. Covid-19 deaths on China and the World Health Organization.

Xi’s iron grip on China’s institutions means “he remains as powerful as ever,” said Lam. Yet a second weakness exposed by the crisis – reliance of the unelected Communist Party on rapid economic growth for its legitimacy – could prove damaging, he added, as a global recession makes greater prosperity impossible to deliver.

The government on Friday abandoned its decades-long practice of publishing a hard growth target, reflecting its concern over how the economic showdown will play at home. In a sign of the geopolitical implications such insecurities could have going forward, China also confirmed it was introducing national security laws on Hong Kong that would effectively bypass the city’s legislature.

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi retains strong popular support so far, even as economic hardship from the nation’s 50-day lockdown has begun to bite. Yet Modi suffers in comparison with his own nation’s Kerala state where, according to news reports, a health minister kept the population of almost 35 million all but untouched by launching an aggressive test, track and isolate operation in late January, long before the national government began to act in March.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, who continues to deny the seriousness of the virus, looks more exposed. The former army captain has so far burned through two health ministers during the crisis and clashed with regional governors over lockdown restrictions, putting his lack of management experience into sharp relief. Until he became president last year, Bolsonaro had never held an executive role in government.

Leadership is just one factor that may explain the huge variations in the impact Covid-19 has had in different countries. Among the most important: whether nations had recent experience with similar epidemics, a reason nations in Asia and Australasia have tended to be more sure-footed in their responses. Other factors include age demographics, population density, health system capacity and culture.

Still, leadership has an effect. In Russia, President Vladimir Putin’s reputation for crisis management has taken a pounding – and not necessarily because of Covid-19 infection or death rates. Anger is rising over damage to the economy, forecast to shrink 5.5% this year. With government coffers already suffering from low oil revenues -- made worse by Russia’s price war with Saudi Arabia -- and sanctions imposed after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, Putin has been either unable or unwilling to release sufficient funds to cushion the blow.