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April 27, 2020

Mr. President, Please Disinfect Your CV19 Press Briefings

Trump’s staff may finally, at long last, bench these endless and vacuous briefings.

For the last eight weeks, I have endured the White House CV19 “press briefings” every evening — defined mostly by rambling remarks from Donald Trump. These lengthy and vacuous episodes have become increasingly painful to watch, especially when the president repeatedly digs himself into a hole … and then just keeps digging.

A few weeks ago in a column, “Mr. President, Don’t Be the Poster Child for CV19 Misery,” I warned that Trump is setting himself up to be the face of CV19 misery, in large part because of his omnipresence at these briefings — lording over what are anything but “brief” pressers. I advised then that, as commander-in-chief, President Trump should only spend a few minutes delivering positive and encouraging remarks — update his administration’s progress against the virus, then progress supporting our businesses’ recovery efforts (something he actually knows a lot about), and then get off the stage. He should leave all the details and press questions to Vice President Mike Pence and his Task Force members.

But alas, for weeks Trump has refused to yield the podium and, as a result, has irrevocably become the face of an epic national catastrophe. He didn’t create CV19 disease, but he has made himself the lightning rod for its consequences. Our economy is on a life support ventilator — having erased Trump’s “greatest economy in history” reelection platform.

White House senior economic adviser Kevin Hassett warns, “Make no mistake: It’s a really grave situation. This is the biggest negative shock that our economy, I think, has ever seen. We’re going to be looking at an unemployment rate that approaches rates that we saw during the Great Depression.” According to Forbes, the current unemployment rate of 20.6% is the highest level since 1934. Peak unemployment in the Great Depression reached 25%, and the next wave of unemployment figures this week will challenge that peak figure.

For Trump to be swapping stupid with jackasses — bantering with his Leftmedia agitators — while 26.4 million Americans have lost their jobs is not what the nation needs from its executive. Trump’s modus operandi is to wear out his opponents with his sparring position shifts and streams of consciousness, keeping them on the ropes. But his daily briefings have worn out his supporters, and his credibility is suffering. Only 23% of Americans still have a significant level of trust in what Trump reports about the pandemic.

A few weeks ago, most networks cut away from the nightly pressers because they claimed Trump was using them as “campaign events.” The fact that they were not televising these fiascos is fortuitous because the briefings have tanked Trump’s job approval ratings, and he now trails Joe Biden by six points.

Trump has deeply wounded his reelection campaign. The presidential election is six months away, which is a couple of political lifetimes. He can pull his reelection prospects out of the ditch he has dug, but he better start today.

The good news is that after yet another self-inflicted wound at last Thursday’s confab, Trump’s staffers are finally, at long last, listening to those of us outside the Beltway and cutting back his endless CV19 briefings.

As you are undoubtedly aware, in one of his endless diatribes last Thursday, which Task Force communications director Dr. Deborah Birx kindly described as Trump processing new information “out loud,” he was pontificating about disinfectants and the use of UV light to kill coronavirus. Unfortunately, he conflated two things: the use of disinfectants externally and the possible injection of UV light to kill coronavirus. What came out was a garbled mess. “I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute,” said Trump, “And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning?”

Friday morning, The Washington Post led with the word-twisting claim that Trump had asked “that scientists test whether disinfectants, such as bleach, could be injected inside the human body to fight the coronavirus.”

Rather than admit his comments were confusing, Trump told reporters that he was just being sarcastic: “I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you to see what would happen. … [It was] a very sarcastic question to the reporters in the room about disinfectant on the inside.”

There is no way to parse that assertion — that is not what happened. He was not addressing reporters when he made those confusing comments. He was addressing his medical experts, who were staring at him in disbelief at the words coming out of his mouth.

Sidebar: Their expressions reminded me of the look on COMPACFLT ADM Robert Willard’s face when Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) expressed his concern in a House Defense Appropriations hearing about the number of Marines being stationed on one side of Guam. Johnson declared, “My fear is that the whole island will become so overly populated that it will tip over and capsize.” Maintaining his composure, ADM Willard responded, “We don’t anticipate that.”

Regardless, the issue is not what Trump said, what he meant, or how that was portrayed in the press. The issue is that he never should have been blathering about this at a press briefing in the first place.

As I noted previously, the president should start those briefings by focusing for a few minutes on his administration’s progress against the virus, then turn to the progress supporting businesses’ recovery efforts — something he actually knows something about — and then leave the room.

By Friday evening, apparently Trump got the message. That briefing was the shortest of the last 50, lasting a mere 22 minutes, and it was conducted like a presidential briefing. That was a dramatic and long-overdue departure, and there was no briefing Saturday or Sunday. Asked if he was going to discontinue the briefings, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said, “I leave that to the president; that is entirely his decision.”

I suspect that it’s not just his advisers who finally got through to him, but that some key members of the CV19 Task Force said they would resign en masse if he did not cease and desist – practice media distancing.

Moving forward, here is some additional advice from far outside the Beltway: Briefings should not stop cold — or it will then appear that Trump and his administration are AWOL.

(Visit our CV19 Pandemic response and recovery page with its comprehensive timeline, and see our related pages.

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