“I’ll be honest, uh, I have a lot of things going on,” Trump said, trying to explain his lack of coronavirus preparation.
Donald Trump’s interview on ABC Tuesday illustrated why the president rarely strays from the friendly confines of Fox News.
While Fox News hosts are content to let Trump rant and rave with little regard for lies or coherency, World News Tonight host David Muir sent Trump into a tailspin with a question that he should’ve seen coming — why didn’t he do more to prepare for the coronavirus that has now killed more than 72,000 Americans and counting?
It was as if Trump had never thought about it before. And it wasn’t the only moment in which the president was flummoxed. He had no plan for bringing the spread of the virus under control and offered little beyond his widely-criticized idea that states should reopen their economies swiftly — even as none has met the White House coronavirus task force’s criteria for doing so.
The interview took place during Trump’s at times surreal, mask-less trip to a Honeywell plant in Phoenix, Arizona, where masks are produced. It was one of his first public appearances away from the White House since he declared the coronavirus to be a national emergency in mid-March.
The event foreshadows the White House policy ahead: There is no serious, coordinated plan to tackle the crisis. Instead, Trump will spend the summer trying to convince his supporters to ignore the data and believe that he turned the coronavirus crisis into an economic success story. That means opening up businesses, even though no expert believes that will help the economy. At the same time, it’ll cause more Americans to die.
Trump, gallingly, has decided to put his bogus campaign message before the health and safety and lives of Americans. As he said earlier Tuesday: “Will some people be badly affected? Yes.”
“Well, I’ll be honest, uh, I have a lot of things going on”
During the interview with Muir, Trump tried to deflect questions about his administration’s failures with regard to obtaining personal protective equipment and deploying an effective coronavirus test by pinning blame on former President Barack Obama. This talking point is absurd, but he has largely gotten away with making it during press briefings.
It took Muir just one question to demonstrate that Trump has no defense beyond deflection.
“What did you do when you became president to restock those cupboards that you say are bare?” he asked.
“Well, I’ll be honest, uh, I have a lot of things going on,” Trump began, in a soundbite tailor-made for an attack ad. “We had a lot of, uh, people, that refused to allow the country to be successful. They wasted a lot of time on ‘Russia, Russia, Russia’ — that turned out to be a total hoax. Then they did ‘Ukraine, Ukraine,’ and that was a total hoax. Then they impeached the president for absolutely no reason.”
ABC: You’re three years into your term. What did you do when you became president to restock those cupboards that you say are bare?
TRUMP: “Well, I’ll be honest, uh, I have a lot of things going on.” pic.twitter.com/7l9v3dgrOz
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 5, 2020
While Trump may want you to believe the Russia investigation left him too preoccupied to prepare for a pandemic, he still did find time to disband the government’s pandemic preparedness team in 2018 — not to mention regularly vacation at properties he still owns and profits from, and live-tweet countless hours of cable news coverage.
Muir didn’t press any of these points and was widely criticized for not doing so. But remarkably, it didn’t even take a follow-up question to expose Trump.
The same thing happened later, when Muir asked Trump about his infamous February 26 statement about the number of cases of coronavirus in the country, which then stood at 15, “within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.” (There are more than 1.2 million coronavirus cases in the country as of May 6.)
Trump’s attempt to defend the comment didn’t make sense:
So let me, let me — I said even, you would say, worse than that, I said ‘one person’ one time. And it’s true. There was a time when we had one person in this country. We knew about it, we worked on it, but we have one person. It mushroomed. The 15 people mushroomed. Other people were coming in also from Europe.
As Trump flailed, Muir interjected to note that “we’re over a million cases though.” The president took the opportunity to stop trying to explain his past statements and start talking about how much testing the US is doing now — ignoring that it’s still far short of what experts say is needed to safely reopen businesses, and comes after the virus spread across the country in a largely undetected manner in February and March.
As Trump rambled, he misspoke about which country he’s leading (“I banned people from coming in from China”) and brandished a sheet of paper meant to demonstrate how great the US is in testing compared with other countries (nevermind that the US has more than twice as many coronavirus deaths as the four countries he used for comparison combined.)
“I banned people from coming into China” — while trying to defend his February comment that the coronavirus would go away on its own, Trump confuses which country he’s president of and comes across as a parody of an incompetent leader pic.twitter.com/dn7JzILYSP
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 5, 2020
None of that was reassuring. But the most terrifying part of the interview came at the beginning, when Trump acknowledged that American lives will have to be sacrificed for the sake of reopening the economy.
Asked by Muir if “lives will be lost to reopen the country,” Trump didn’t try to deny it.
“It’s possible there will be some, because you won’t be locked into an apartment or a house or whatever it is,” he said. “But at the same time, we’re going to practice social distancing. We’re gonna be washing hands, we’re gonna be doing a lot of the things that we’ve learned to do over the last period of time. And — we have to get our country back.”
PART ONE: @DavidMuir has an exclusive interview with Pres. Trump in Phoenix, Arizona, asking about the risk of more lives lost to COVID-19 in the push to reopen, testing and the economy and his message to the families of the 70,000 Americans now dead. https://t.co/hzG1drfzIj pic.twitter.com/bivV4KSxJq
— World News Tonight (@ABCWorldNews) May 6, 2020
That line of thinking was also a theme during remarks made at a roundtable event before the ABC interview.
“I’m viewing our great citizens of this country to a certain extent and to a large extent as warriors. They’re warriors. We can’t keep our country closed. We have to open our country,” Trump said. “Will some people be badly affected? Yes.”
Trump on why businesses should reopen: “I’m viewing our great citizens of this country to a certain extent and to a large extent as warriors. They’re warriors. We can’t keep our country closed. We have to open our country … Will some people be badly affected? Yes.” pic.twitter.com/hNXws4bwtd
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 5, 2020
By “badly affected,” Trump meant dead — and two new models indicate that tens of thousands of American lives could end in the coming months if the country continues down its current path and social distancing measures are relaxed too soon.
Characteristically, when Trump was asked about those models during a Q&A with reporters just before he boarded Air Force One for Arizona, he lied about them. Muir, however, didn’t press the point.
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