Toned-Down Trump Changes Tune
Updated: Jul 22
Donald Trump made his return to the coronavirus briefing stage Tuesday afternoon with a subdued news conference that indicated he might finally be ready to take the public-health crisis seriously.
Trump mixed his normal self-congratulatory style with some rare honesty during his 25 minutes at the lectern. The president stood alone before reporters, giving a 15-minute monotone speech before fielding 10 minutes of questions.
Not a single member of the White House’s coronavirus task force was present. Not Vice President Mike Pence. Not Dr. Anthony Fauci. Not Dr. Deborah Birx. However, in an encouraging sign, Trump did level with the American people at one point, saying that the virus will get worse before it gets better.
As COVID-19 rages out of control in several regions of the country, particularly the South and West, the president failed to display any of his unhinged antics that became a hallmark of these events during the spring. And he even changed his tune in a lot of ways.
For example, Trump asked all Americans to physically distance and wear a mask, although he still won’t issue a national mandate. He even, at one point, pulled his own mask out of his pocket. Trump also asked the nation’s youth to avoid congregating in packed bars, a behavior that has led to super-spreader events across the country.
Trump referred to COVID-19 as “the China virus,” three times during his opening remarks, before he answered reporters’ questions respectfully and without lobbing a cavalcade of insults at them. He also displayed a chart of misleading statistics that indicated the country is doing better fighting the virus than reality suggests.
The vast majority of journalists asked about the virus, with one question about jailed socialite Ghislaine Maxwell -- Trump wishes her well -- thrown into the mix. There were no questions about Russian bounties to kill U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan or about the ongoing militarized federal response to protests in Portland, Ore.
There was plenty of classic Trump self-congratulation and exaggeration as well. The president blamed China for all our problems, took credit for saving millions of lives and proclaimed, “we did all the right things,” as the U.S. death toll climbs toward 145,000. He also promised, once again, that the virus will eventually disappear.
Trump dismissed calls for a national shutdown, calling it unsustainable, and falsely saying it would lead to “catastrophic health consequences.” He then promised the economy would rebound, saying next year will be a record year.
Throughout the crisis, the president has made it clear that he cares more about his television ratings than the health and safety of the American people, and nothing seems to bring in more viewers than an erratic Trump throwing a temper-tantrum in front of a bunch of journalists. We didn’t get that today.
Will this toned-down version of the president continue? History says it’s unlikely. Throughout his administration, Trump’s occasional moments of discipline and semi-clarity have been immediately undone by a series of rage-filled tweets and days-to-weeks of bizarre behavior.
On Tuesday, Trump did the bare minimum. He finally acted somewhat rational and put out a call for all Americans to wear a mask.
Now, the question is will his army of conspiracy-theory-believing followers listen?