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In Trump’s Marathon Briefings, the Answers and the Message Are Often Contradictory

  • April 09, 2020

His shifting assessments of the seriousness of the virus over recent months have been well documented. Initially, he likened it to an ordinary flu that would “miraculously” go away, then he later called it “the worst thing that the country has probably ever seen” and declared “war” against the virus. Then he aimed to reopen the country by Easter, before retreating and declaring “hard days” ahead.

The crossed signals over cutting finances for the W.H.O., however, showed that his contradictions can take place over the course of days or even within the same briefing. Only five days before vowing to review the health organization’s response to the pandemic, he blasted Congress for setting up a panel to review his own administration’s response to it, saying such an investigation “during a pandemic is really a big waste of vital resources, time, attention.”

During Tuesday’s session, he launched into a long broadside against the evils of mail-in voting, which he called “a very dangerous thing for this country.” Only after a reporter pointed it out did he acknowledge that he has mailed in votes himself — as recently last month for Florida’s primary.

How did he reconcile that? “Because I’m allowed to,” he said. “Well, that’s called ‘out of state.’ You know, why I voted? Because I happen to be in the White House and I won’t be able to go to Florida to vote.”

How is that different from others who cannot go in person or do not want to risk their health? To that, he said, “You get thousands and thousands of people sitting in somebody’s living room, signing ballots all over the place.”

The president has also swung radically in his views of governors and reporters, one day praising them, the next day castigating them. “I really think the media has been very fair,” he said at a briefing last month. By Monday, he no longer thought so. “I wish we had a fair media in this country, and we really don’t,” he said as he denounced one journalist as a “third-rate reporter,” called another one’s question “horrid” and demanded to know if an Asian-American reporter from CBS News was “working for China.”

What remains unclear is whether Mr. Trump does not remember saying things that he later denies saying or is trying to impose his own reality. During a telephone interview last month with Sean Hannity on Fox News, Mr. Trump assailed Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York for saying he needed 30,000 to 40,000 ventilators, suggesting that was exaggerated.

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