President Trump has now done what his critics have been demanding, focusing squarely on the pandemic, offering a downbeat assessment and no longer insisting it will magically disappear.
And he still got pounded for it.
Now the return of the coronavirus briefings was hardly flawless. It had the feel of an intervention by presidential advisers who wanted to stop the political bleeding over Covid-19, with Trump reading from a prepared script before taking a few questions.
In the past, when aides have pushed him onto the prompter, the president usually rebels within a day or two. He’ll revert back to his previous rhetoric in comments to a reporter or by firing off tweets. And that can’t be ruled out.
But isn’t it a positive step for Trump, after many weeks of playing down the coronavirus, to say “it will probably, unfortunately, get worse before it gets better”?
Isn’t it a step in the right direction for the president to stop talking about little “embers” around the country and say we also have “big fires,” naming Florida as an example? Especially with a surge in new cases in the South and West, and the country surpassing 1,000 deaths in a single day?
It’s no secret that Trump wanted to move on from the virus and pivot to reopening the economy, along with other issues like urban crime. That’s why he canceled Season 1 of the meandering White House virus briefings, where he spent plenty of time sparring with reporters and which even his inner circle concluded was hurting him.
Season 2 is a tighter production, with both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s shows lasting about half an hour, but does put the pandemic back at the top of the White House agenda.
Why Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx were not included is hard to fathom. These aren’t really briefings, and Trump had no little information to announce. They are news conferences.
The president was a bit more optimistic yesterday, talking about helping senior citizens, seeing light at the end of the tunnel, again sticking to a prepared script, and was even subdued in responding to reporters. Well, except for the part where he talked about doing more for blacks than anyone except Abraham Lincoln.
But some of the session had nothing to do with the virus as journalists asked about the controversy over his dispatching federal law-enforcement agents to Portland.
The wide-open format also meant that when a reporter asked about Ghislaine Maxwell on Tuesday, Trump answered the question. It would have been better if he had deflected it. When Trump said he wished her well--they know each other from Palm Beach society--it sparked a wave of criticism (including from some Republicans) about sympathy for a woman who helped Jeffrey Epstein sexually abuse young girls.
The president also changed gears on the long-running debate over masks. “I have no problem with the masks...Anything that can potentially help, and that certainly can potentially help, is a good thing.” He told reporters that “you saw me wearing it a number of times, and I’ll continue.”
Actually, reporters have seen Trump wear a mask exactly once. And there’s no need for the press to play along with revisionist history. Trump was ambivalent to skeptical for months and is just now catching up with Mitch McConnell and other Republicans who have been strongly advocating for mask-wearing.
CNN, by the way, talks about Trump and the virus all the time, but did not air the Tuesday briefing until he started taking questions.
We are in the midst of the greatest threat to the health of Americans in a century, with more than 140,000 deaths so far. We need the president to lead an aggressive response for as long as he’s in office. It’s fine for the press to hold him accountable for past mistakes, but that shouldn’t be the obsessive focus.