[guest post by Dana]
We knew it would happen. Prominent leaders in the GOP were bound to jump into the fray and defend Trump after previews of Bob Woodward books were released. The portion at the center of the firestorm reveals that the President said, on tape, that he intentionally downplayed the virus.
Here is a roundup of reactions by Republicans desperately trying to downplay Trump’s downplay:
Sen. Thom Tillis, a vulnerable Republican who is up for reelection, said he wants to see “the full context” of Trump’s comments before fully weighing in. But he added: “When you’re in a crisis situation, you have to inform people for their public health but you also don’t want to create hysteria.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican also up for reelection, pointed to Feb. 29 comments that Dr. Anthony Fauci made on the “Today” show where he said that there was “no need” for people to change their lifestyles “at this moment,” though Fauci also warned about the threat of “community spread” from the coronavirus and cautioned that the risk level “could change.”
“I think it became clear that the human transmission was greater than originally thought,” Graham told CNN.
“So when the President shutdown the economy in March I think that was a bold decision because he took the hottest economy in decades and shut it down. I think that was the decision of consequence, shutting the economy down.” (The White House left the decisions to states to decide whether to shut down their economies.)
Graham added: “I don’t think he needs to go on TV and screaming we’re all going to die.”
Asked again if he was OK with Trump admitting that he played down the threat, Graham said: “His actions of shutting the economy down were the right actions. I think the tone during that time sort of spoke for itself. People knew it was serious”
Other Republicans offered similar defenses:
“I’d argued since day one that we put this in proper perspective: I have not been in favor of these overall shutdowns, have been devastating to the economy, devastating to people’s health in other ways,” said Sen. Ron Johnson, chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, told me, when asked about Trump’s comments to Woodward.
Johnson added: “It’s been a difficult thing to manage, and I’ve tried not to be critical of any government officials having to make really tough decisions with imperfect information, that includes governors and the President. So I understand what he’s saying. I don’t think it’s an illegitimate point to make.”
This is my favorite one – a straight-up denial of reality:
Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA): These gotcha books don't really interest me that much.
CNN's Pamela Brown: He's on the record. He's on the record.
Kennedy: These gotcha books don't really interest me that much.
Brown: He did 18 interviews with Bob Woodward … He's recorded. pic.twitter.com/GGuAZkw4KO
— The Recount (@therecount) September 9, 2020
And here is Trump’s press secretary lying about the President’s lies:
"The president has never lied to the American public about COVID," White House press sec. Kayleigh McEnany says in response to reports that Pres. Trump admitted he deliberately played down coronavirus threat in an interview with Bob Woodward. https://t.co/Ud65CGPMjB pic.twitter.com/j2odpoNA7n
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) September 9, 2020
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany insisted at a White House briefing Wednesday the president “never lied to the American public on COVID” but rather “was expressing calm.”
Despite Trump’s saying on the March 19 audio recording obtained by CNN that “I wanted to always play it down” and “I still like playing it down,” McEnany said: “The president never down played the virus. The president expressed calm and he was serious about this.”
Anyway, I could go on and share Fox and Friends’ defense of the President, Laura Ingraham’s, Sean Hannity’s, etc., but you pretty much almost always know what they’re going to say before they say it…
Here’s a question I had but didn’t consider it as much as this guy (whom I don’t normally read, but I think he’s onto something in his observations):
So Trump has confirmed in his own voice that he was not self-deluded about COVID. He knew the danger – and still opted to do nothing and instead belittle the risk in public.
The question that then follows …What on earth did Trump expect to happen next?
I get the utility of the “lie your way out of it” approach to scandals and crimes.
But you can’t cover up an epidemic!
So *why* was he so passive? Action might have saved him, even the appearance of action. Instead, nothing. Why?
This question I think casts light on Trump’s habitual lying.
At some deep level of his psyche, he imagines that words can change reality.
He has no idea eg how to run a business. But if you keep saying your business is “tremendous,” bankers lend you money you need not repay.
His hotels and resorts are 2nd-tier at best. But keep insisting they are “classy” – and people who don’t know better may be duped to regard the Trump brand as somehow equivalent to Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons.
So when a virus materialized, Trump did the only thing he knew how to do: try to talk his way out of it.
He kept promising Americans the virus “would go away” as he once kept promising creditors that the check was in the mail. Maybe something would happen to save him!
Talk, talk, talk, never stop talking, refuse to be interrupted, overwhelm your creditors/customers/wives with words … and so long as you kept talking uninterrupted, nothing too very bad could happen. Or so Trump had learned to believe.
Any true plan of action against the virus would have required Trump to cede control and attention to someone else, someone who possessed the expertise and competence Trump lacked. That course was truly radically intolerable to the narcissistic Trump.
So instead he chose the only course of action he had the know-how to execute: try to out-talk the virus.
He talked and talked and talked. He contradicted himself, he lied, he made false promises – but he ballooned himself over the landscape on a great gush of hot air. He felt safe so long as he floated up there, above the people who got sick on his watch, above the dead and dying, above the shuttered businesses, above the lost jobs, above the interrupted educations … words words words, the only thing he knows how to produce.
He surely could see the air leaking from his balloon of blather. He could feel the basket slowly losing altitude, anticipate the shock of the crash … and so he kept pumping more words, hoping if he could only stay above the tree-line until voting day, he might yet survive.
It was never a good plan. But any other plan was either intellectually impossible for Trump (do a good job) or psychically impossible (yield power and attention to someone who could do the good job Trump couldn’t). So … he yammered and trusted something would save him.
Maybe the virus would fall only on the blue states. Maybe sugar tablets would cure it. Maybe he could push enough people back to work to revive the economy without killing too many of them. Maybe Putin’s vaccine would work. Talk talk talk, never pause.
And so here we are. The trick that more or less worked through so many bankruptcies and relaunches failed to work. Almost 200,000 Americans are dead. He’s facing electoral defeat – and probably massive civil liability and criminal exposure post-defeat.
Still… all things considered, it was a pretty good run, wasn’t it? When it’s all over, what will be hard to explain will not be, “What went wrong?” but “How did such a transparent fraud dupe so many people? And how did the fraud continue even as everything crashed into ruin?”
Those are questions for the future. For now, the immediate problem is, how do we save from the wreckage a country where two-fifths of the population prefer to suffer death and disaster rather than admit a mistake?
UPDATE BY PATTERICO: Trump says he hid the true facts about the seriousness of COVID-19 to prevent feelings of panic.
But facts don’t care about your feelings.
UPDATE #2 BY DANA: Trump defends himself when confronted about downplaying the virus:
.@jonkarl: "Why did you lie to the American people? Why should we trust what you have to say now?"
President Trump: Such a terrible question and the phraseology. I didn't lie."
— CSPAN (@cspan) September 10, 2020
“Why did you lie to the American people, and why should we trust what you have to say now?” ABC News correspondent Jon Karl asked during a news conference, referencing the president’s comments in audio recordings from February that COVID-19 was “deadly” even as he publicly minimized the threat of the virus.
“That’s a terrible question and the phraseology,” Trump said. “I didn’t lie. What I said is we have to be calm. We can’t be panicked.”
“The way you phrased that is such a disgrace,” Trump added. “It’s a disgrace to ABC Television Network. It’s a disgrace to your employer.”
Karl pressed Trump, noting that he told Woodward in early February that COVID-19 spread through the air and was more lethal than a “strenuous flu” even as he publicly compared the emerging outbreak to the common flu.
“What I went out and said is very simple. I want to show a level of confidence, and I want to show strength as a leader and I want to show our country is going to be fine one way or the other,” Trump said. “There was no lie here. What we’re doing is we’re leading, and we’re leading in a proper way.”