Pressed by CNN host Jake Tapper on the state's soaring pandemic death toll, Gov. Tate Reeves pivoted to politics, referring to dead Mississippians as "lagging indicators." Credit: CNN

In the popular 1970s children’s book, Alexander had a “Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” where nothing went right. Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves had such a day, or at least such an interview, Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” with host Jake Tapper.

Reeves appeared astonishingly unprepared for Tapper’s questions about Mississippi’s highest in the nation — and second highest in the world, behind Peru — rate of COVID-19 deaths.

In quick encapsulation: When asked what he might do to address one in 320 Mississippians dying from the pandemic, Reeves said he’ll sue President Biden to stop vaccine mandates and offered some strange what-about-isms about how people, including Democrats, will probably soon be dropping like flies in other states and countries.

He also coldly referred, numerous times, to thousands of dead Mississippians being a statistical “lagging indicator.”

Reeves said “timing … has as much to do with that (deaths) statistic that you used as anything else …”

Timing? Perhaps he believes that COVID-19 is intentionally trying to make him look bad with its timing on when it kills people?

Reeves uttered some nonsensical gibberish about how Congress should be part time like the Mississippi Legislature, apropos of … who knows? He appeared at one point to begin to say that vaccination is the best way to defeat the virus. But he quickly caught himself and, as he has many times past, he equivocated on this about personal choice and individual freedom. He could only muster that people should “talk to their doctor about potentially getting the vaccine.”

READ MORE: Gov. Reeves downplays Mississippi’s highest-in-nation COVID death rate

His performance was not well received, at home or abroad.

A Washington Post opinion piece titled “Tate Reeves and the high cost of covid incompetence” said Reeves is in the running for “the poster child for irresponsible leadership” after his “disastrous appearance” on CNN. Numerous other national outlets published similar critiques.

“Yes, deaths are a lagging indicator,” the Post piece noted, “but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.”

If, as some state politicos have surmised, Reeves has national — perhaps presidential — aspirations, his performance on CNN did not make him look ready for prime time.

Tapper set up the Reeves interview with a clip of President Joe Biden responding to Reeves’ recent comments accusing him of “tyranny” over his push to have OSHA mandate large businesses require employees to be vaccinated or tested for COVID-19 weekly.

Biden responded that Mississippi, which has one of the nation’s strictest vaccine mandates for school children, requires children be vaccinated for numerous diseases.

Reeves responded to Tapper by arguing that the Legislature enacted the state’s vaccine laws and, “It’s unique to kids … It’s not vaccines mandated in the workplace,” which he called “an attack by the president on hardworking Americans and hardworking Mississippians.”

Reeves said, “The question here is not about what we do in Mississippi.”

Indeed, Reeves appeared most uncomfortable being questioned about what’s being done — or not being done — in the state he leads.

“Jake, as I mentioned earlier, deaths, unfortunately, are a lagging indicator,” Reeves said, as he sidestepped questions about what he’s doing to change the virus trajectory in Mississippi. “Our total number of cases went from 100 to 3,600 and, over the last two weeks has declined. They have been cut in half, from 3,600 to 1,800 … You wanted to talk about our number of cases. And then you want to talk about our hospitalizations. Now you want to talk about a lagging indicator, which is sad.”

Tapper responded: “I’m trying to talk about the dead in Mississippi, is what I’m trying to talk about.”

READ MORE: Mississippi procrastinates as other states plan for, spend billions in pandemic stimulus


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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.