“I learned a lot from Richard Nixon”: Trump’s latest Fox & Friends interview went strange places
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“I learned a lot from Richard Nixon”: Trump’s latest Fox & Friends interview went strange places

President Trump and Melania Trump on May 7. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic was a passing topic during Trump’s latest hour-long vent session.

Americans on Friday awoke to the worst jobs report in recorded history, one that showed the unemployment rate surging up to 14.7 percent. The main driver of that, of course, is the coronavirus pandemic, which resulted in more than 2,500 Americans dying in a 24-hour period ending late Thursday, pushing the death toll above 76,000, with no end in sight.

Those are huge, interrelated problems that are causing people a lot of pain and anxiety. But President Donald Trump’s nearly hour-long call into Fox & Friends Friday morning was a window into an alternate world where the biggest story going is the Obama-era FBI’s purported bias against Trump, and the interrelated public health and economic crises are minor inconveniences.

The reason Trump was talking about the FBI in the first place is because on Thursday, Attorney General Bill Barr’s Department of Justice made a widely criticized announcement that he’s dropping the case against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Flynn had already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US, but the DOJ’s decision gave Trump a pretext to spend the first 20 minutes of his latest Fox phoner ranting about the forces he believed conspired against him back in 2016.

“Comey, who is a sick man,” Trump said, referring to former FBI Director James Comey. “He’s just a stupid guy. He’s dumb as a stick. And he’s a sick guy — there’s something wrong with him.”

Trump made some vaguely accusatory remarks about former President Barack Obama, saying, “if anyone thinks that he and sleepy Joe Biden didn’t know what was going on, they have another thing coming.” He also distanced himself from current FBI Director Christopher Wray for not doing more to investigate Obama-era leadership, falsely describing Wray as “appointed by Rod Rosenstein” (he was actually nominated by Trump) and adding in an authoritarian flourish, “in theory, I’m chief law enforcement officer.”

Perhaps most bizarrely, at one point Trump offered that he “learned a lot from Richard Nixon”— including, apparently, how to get away with everything.

“Of course there was one difference, one big difference: number one, he may have been guilty, and number two, he had tapes all over the place,” Trump said, leaving open the possibility that Nixon was in fact innocent. “I wasn’t guilty, I did nothing wrong, and there are no tapes. But I wish there were tapes in my case. But learned a lot from Richard Nixon, and you don’t do that.”

Left unanswered by this bizarre digression is the question of why Trump would ever have been worried about tapes in the first place. Perhaps the idea is that if Comey would have in fact had a recording to back up a memo he wrote about a February 2017 discussion in which Trump asked him to go easy on Flynn, the Russia investigation might’ve turned out more like Watergate.

In any event, Trump had been talking for more than 20 minutes before the word “coronavirus” was even mentioned. And while the pandemic is at the forefront of consciousness for most Americans, it was a topic the president and Fox & Friends hosts discussed in passing. Trump used it as an opportunity to attack blue state governors for not moving quicker to reopen their economies, and described the Americans he wants to get back to work in the teeth of a pandemic as “warriors.”

Trump is trying to sell hope about the economy

About halfway through the interview, the US Department of Labor released a jobs report that showed the country shedding 20.5 million jobs in April. The optics of Trump’s real-time response weren’t great.

Alongside a graphic of the 14.7 unemployment rate, Trump boasted about how strong the economy was as recently as three months ago, and proclaimed, “those jobs will all be back, and they’ll be back very soon” — contradicting forecasts from his own government that foresee double-digit unemployment lingering into next year.

Trump was then asked about the killing that was caught on camera of unarmed black jogger Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia (“It could be something we didn’t see on tape,” he said) and a failed operation to overthrow Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela (“If we ever did anything with Venezuela it wouldn’t be that way. It’d be slightly different. It’d be called an invasion”).

To wrap things up, host Ainsley Earhardt teed up a softball for Trump about what his message to moms ahead of Mother’s Day is. The president responded by rambling on about how strong the US military is thanks to him.

The interview was a window into the state of the world as Trump wants Americans to see it: one where he heroically overcome enemies like President Obama who sought to take him down, and built the greatest economy in history only to have it temporarily sidetracked by a pandemic.

This approach works for Trump during his vent-fests on Fox, but it’s instructive to compare and contrast that alternative world with the interview Trump did Tuesday with ABC’s David Muir.

Even though Muir let Trump get away with a number of lies, basic probing questions about why he wasn’t more prepared for the coronavirus sent him into a tailspin.

“Well, I’ll be honest, uh, I have a lot of things going on,” Trump at one point tried to explain to Muir, in a sound bite tailor-made for an attack ad.

Muir didn’t ask Trump about the Obama-era FBI, and that makes sense — most Americans have more pressing things to worry about. Trump, however, is much more comfortable talking about his plans to settle old scores than he is about the interlocking public health and political crises that he continues to try and wish away.


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