At last we reach the end of week two of the coronavirus-briefing lockdown. The daily press conference of the White House pandemic task force, with its supporting cast of Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx, Mike Pence and Steven Mnuchin orbiting the supernova star of the show, had become must-see hate-viewing for much of the country—both for those who despise the president and for those who revere him and relished the display of petulance and showboating sanctimony offered up by many members of his greatest, and perhaps most outgunned, adversary, the White House press corps. Trumpkins eat that stuff up with a spoon.
And then the briefings were over, called off by the president himself in a bitter tweet. He had evidently made a calculation that they were doing him more harm than good. In their place has come a series of public events of a more conventional character—brief Q&A sessions in the Oval Office, statements from the Rose Garden, roundtables with solicitous business owners and fawning legislators, and an occasional pressroom briefing by his new press secretary, gloating about successes real and imagined, as press secretaries are born to do.
But of course nothing that carries the Trump brand can be conventional. There were switchbacks and zigzags, surprises on top of surprises. Having discontinued the briefings by the task force, the president reasoned that the purpose of the task force itself was therefore exhausted—in keeping with a general belief that its primary value wasn’t to gather expertise and manage federal activity but to hold briefings at which the president could appear. No briefing, no task force! On Tuesday he mentioned offhand that the task force would be winding down; on Wednesday he tweeted that the task force would continue its work and probably grow bigger.