President Donald Trump complained that he is treated unfairly. He touted his tax cuts. He told his usual lie about how he is the one who got the Obama-era Veterans Choice program passed into law. He told a story about how he had never been booed before 2015. He said, three times, that his wife is “very popular.”
The coronavirus crisis has prevented Trump from holding his signature campaign rallies. So he has turned his daily White House coronavirus briefings, like the one on Sunday, into a kind of special spinoff of the familiar Trump Show — replete with all the usual misinformation, self-promotion and potshots.
Trump’s marathon Monday briefing ran for more than 100 minutes.
Like his arena addresses, his appearances in the briefing room tend to follow a rough formula. Here’s what they usually involve.
Inaccurate progress reports
Trump has tried to announce some good news at the beginning of every briefing. But many of his claims of progress have been incorrect.
Trump announced that Ford and General Motors were making ventilators “right now,” though manufacturing had not actually started. Trump announced that military hospital ships could be launched “over the next week or so,” though military officials made clear that one was undergoing maintenance and could not possibly meet a one-week timeline. Trump announced that a malaria medication had been rapidly “approved” to treat the coronavirus, though the FDA hadn’t approved any medication for the virus.
False, dubious or questionable medical claims
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has repeatedly had to correct or dispute Trump’s claims about medical matters — though Fauci says he is “fundamentally” on the same page with Trump.
Trump has touted chloroquine, a medication used to treat malaria and other illnesses, as likely effective against the coronavirus — claiming that there is “very strong evidence.” Fauci has noted that the evidence is “anecdotal.” Trump has claimed we already know that “if things don’t go as planned” with the use of chloroquine, “it’s not going to kill anybody.” Fauci has said, “There are no proven safe and effective therapies for the coronavirus.”
Fauci, who was not present for Sunday’s briefing, told the journal Science that he knows Trump makes incorrect statements at the podium, but “I can’t jump in front of the microphone and push him down.” Instead, Fauci said, he works behind the scenes to try to get Trump not to repeat the inaccuracies.
Trump did amend one of his claims. After declaring at Saturday’s briefing that people should use “very good liquids” to sanitize masks and re-use them — though N95 masks are approved for a single use only — he acknowledged Sunday that some “aren’t really set up” for re-use; “you throw them out.”
False pronouncements that this was all unforeseen
Trump’s pre-coronavirus speeches included claims that the United States is in unprecedentedly good shape. Now, trying to defend his coronavirus response, Trump has used the briefings to insist that nobody expected a situation as bad this — even though people did.
“It’s something that nobody expected,” Trump said of the crisis, though experts and US intelligence agencies had warned for years about the risk of a pandemic.
“Nobody in their wildest dreams would have ever thought that we’d need tens of thousands of ventilators,” Trump said, though a 2015 study by government disease experts estimated that the US would need as many as 60,000 additional ventilators to deal with a severe flu pandemic.
Trump said at the March 14 and March 16 briefings that much of the media had been “very fair” in its coronavirus coverage. But he has used other briefings as a vehicle for his long-running effort to undermine the credibility of prominent news outlets.
Trump has denounced “fake news” and “corrupt news.” He has called a reporter’s question “nasty.” He has called another reporter “a terrible reporter.” He has criticized the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.
Trump has singled out one outlet for praise: One America News Network, a television outlet even more fawning than Fox News.
Vague economic cheerleading
Trump’s rally scripts included a list of positive economic statistics. Now that those numbers have been rendered obsolete by the virus, Trump has turned to reminding Americans that the economy used to be thriving — and making vague pledges that things will be just as prosperous, or even more so, once the virus is gone.
“It’s too bad because we never had an economy as good as the economy we had just a few weeks ago. But we’ll be back, and I actually think we’ll be back stronger than ever before, because we learned a lot during this period of time,” he said on Thursday.
After declaring Sunday that “I think it’s going to skyrocket,” he conceded that he isn’t certain: “And I guess you really have to say, ‘Who knows?'”
An empathy shortage
Trump’s emphasis on good news, or supposed good news, has been coupled with a refusal to spend much time addressing the bad news. Trump has left it to others to discuss the coronavirus death toll and the number of positive tests.
Asked what advice he has for people who have lost their jobs or are afraid they would the next day, Trump said, “Well, what they do right now is keep receiving their paycheck, and hopefully their companies are going to be in a very strong position.” If people do lose their jobs, he added, “We have unemployment, we have checks, we have a lot of things happening, a lot of very positive things.”
Asked whether the well-connected, such as NBA players, should be able to jump to the front of the line for coronavirus tests, Trump said no, “but perhaps that’s been the story of life.”
Self-promotion, complaints of victimhood
As he does at his rallies, Trump has mixed boasts about his own performance with cries that he has been mistreated.
Told that doctors were saying they were unable to obtain critical supplies, Trump said, “Many doctors — and I’ve read many, many doctors — they can’t believe the great job that we’ve done.” He said governors are “loving what we’re doing.” After complimenting the head of the Food and Drug Administration for working as hard or harder than anyone on the team, he added, “Other than maybe Mike Pence, or me.”
Trump, who said he does not take any responsibility “at all” for the slow pace of coronavirus testing, has used the briefings to cast fault on multiple people and entities.
He has blamed “the media” and an inherited “very obsolete system” over the testing problems. He has blamed China for not warning the world sooner about the virus. (Fauci has acknowledged that Trump has exaggerated how long ago China could have possibly issued a warning). He has criticized people who are suing him over various matters, since “it’s unfair,” and noted that he donates his presidential salary even though “nobody said thank you.”
Trump being Trump
Trump has used the guaranteed television time afforded by the briefings to sneak in some of his favored campaign messages — about how he supports “strong borders,” about how veterans have given high marks to their health care under his leadership, about how Republicans are “fully backing pre-existing conditions” (even though, in reality, they have repeatedly tried to weaken those protections in Obamacare, and are asking the courts to overturn Obama entirely).
As he does at his rallies, though, Trump has also rambled about things mostly of interest to him.
When asked what should be done about the Olympics, he has raved about Japan’s “beautiful” new Olympic Stadium. He has complimented the “stainless steel” in the operating rooms of the hospital ships. Asked if he would commit to refrain from taking government bailout money for his own properties, he gave a non-answer in which he managed to boast about his wealth.
“Look,” he said, “I ran, and everybody knew I was a rich person. I built a great company, and people knew that.”