President Donald Trump resumed his coronavirus press briefings on Tuesday after a two month hiatus, and it was strikingly different from his previous shows. It probably won’t get the boffo ratings that Trump boasted about before, but at least it will get better reviews.
The first round of coronavirus press briefings were the most compellingly bizarre spectacles this side of Netflix’ “The Tiger King.” They featured up to two hours of Trump angrily berating reporters for their questions, pushing his top health experts away from the podium to contradict what they were saying, and making extravagant promises that everything was under control and America would soon be roaring back to business. He stopped doing it after extemporaneously saying to a live nationwide audience that perhaps covid patients should be injected with bleach or other household disinfectants, and well-deserved and widespread ridicule ensued. Trump said the briefings were a waste of time because of how the fake news media twisted his words to make him look bad, but reports indicated that Trump’s most trusted advisors persuaded him was the live-on-air that was dragging his poll numbers down.
This time Trump mostly stuck to the script during a taut thirty minutes at the podium, and he struck a very different tone. He freely admitted that “It will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better,” which is very uncharacteristic of man who prefers to talk about how everything’s great and it’s going to get so much better your head will spin, and he added “That’s something I don’t like saying about things, but that’s the way it is.”
He also urged Americans to wear face masks while in public, despite his long resistance to doing so himself. He once again boasted of the extensive testing that’s being done in America, although he recently told a rally crowd he’d asked health officials “to slow the testing down, please” and has proposed cutting funding for the tests. All in a surprisingly somber voice and civil demeanor, with no castigation of the reporters and none of his insult comic shtick about Democrats, but it remains to be seen how long her can keep that up.
Trump had some trouble answering questions about his infrequent mask-wearing while in public, but the only big gaffe came in response to an off-topic question about Ghislaine Maxwell, who currently in jail facing charges that she groomed underage to have sex with notorious sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, who officials say committed suicide in federal prison after being convicted of rape and other sex crimes. “I wish her well,” Trump said, admitting that he Maxwell and Epstein from frequent encounters on the Palm Beach, Florida, social circuit. Trump ordinarily dismisses anyone he knows who is in trouble as people he hardly knows, but in the case of Maxwell there’s too much photographic proof of the friendship, and we guess he didn’t want to seem a fair weather friend.
Trump’s longtime association with Epstein and Maxwell wasn’t much of a problem when he was running against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, whose hound dog of an ex-president also had close ties to the couple, but this time around the Democratic nominee isn’t named Clinton. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden might choose to take the high road and not exploit the Trump-Epstein-Maxwell relationship, but not everyone opposed to Trump will be quite so polite. Expect “I wish her well” to become a widely seen internet “meme.”
What matters more is what Trump does to slow the spread of the virus, and on Tuesday he didn’t lay out any specific plan. At least he didn’t exude improbable optimism and make extravagant promises, and we suppose that’s a start.
— Bud Norman