“I think you can have it both ways,” Trump said. At these moments his insouciance glows about him as brightly as his corona. Then, as a way to explain how that could actually happen, he answered by simply rephrasing the original question at much greater length and ending in midair, dropping to Earth with an authoritative “So I understand that very well.”
Peter Wehner: The president is unraveling
Another, less pressing question that went unanswered in Sunday night’s town hall was why, precisely, the hell these people were sitting in the Lincoln Memorial. Baier, understandably protective of his reputation as one of Fox’s bona fide journalists, wanted it understood that holding “this virtual town hall” in “this hallowed place” was the president’s idea. For his part, the president made clear that his aesthetic appreciation of the memorial runs deep.
“Aside from the fact that this was a great man [meaning Lincoln], this is a great work of art,” the president said. “That’s one of the greatest sculptures, one of the greatest statues, to me, anywhere in the world. And you can go to Italy, you can go anywhere. [Just not right now.] That’s, to me, one of the greats.” In a word: fabulous.
But as the town hall progressed, it became clear why President Trump wanted to sit with President Lincoln: They are brothers in arms against an unforgiving press corps. One sympathetic questioner, appearing by video, combined a plea with a question: Why does he “not directly answer the questions asked by the press but instead speak of past successes and generally ramble”?
“Look,” Trump said, “I am greeted with a hostile press the likes of which no president has ever seen. The closest would be that gentleman right up there. They always said Lincoln—nobody got treated worse than Lincoln. I believe I am treated worse.”
Then he mentioned a parade of boats that went up the Intracoastal Waterway in Florida that afternoon shouting his name, which led him to mention his rebuilding of the military, which led him to his reform of the Department of Veterans Affairs, which led to a mysterious reference to “civil service in the unions,” followed by the Space Force, Qassem Soleimani, and the vanquishing of the ISIS caliphate, all by way of answering his questioner’s request that he stop rambling. I believe his answer was “no.”
The hostile press is never far from the president’s mind. The mutual contempt between Trump and most of the reporters who cover him has been offered as an explanation for his decision to discontinue his haunting and compelling coronavirus briefings. This misimpression was corrected by the president in an interview Monday with the New York Post. He told his interviewers that the briefings would resume, but with less frequency and in an altered form. This was before he announced that he might disband the coronavirus task force itself, as a natural adjustment to the evolving nature of the crisis. The task force had provided him with a rotating cast of supporting characters, a half-dozen Ethels to his own redheaded Lucy.