On Thursday, after another official gave a presentation about how light and disinfectants kill the virus, Trump blithely speculated whether a disinfectant could be administered “by injection inside, or almost a cleaning.” After an outcry, he claimed on Friday that the statement was “sarcastic.” By Saturday, he was threatening to pull out of the briefings entirely, saying they aren’t worth his time and blaming the press. He stayed out of sight over the weekend. Then on Monday, in a head-spinning change in scheduling, the White House at first canceled the afternoon news conference, only to announce hours later it was back on, with Trump at the helm. It’s a fair bet that the free airtime and chance to push out campaign talking points are, for Trump, an irresistible draw.
No one is forced to watch the daily Trump show, of course. But some don’t have much of a choice. They’re political operatives and consultants, pundits and elected officials, and part of their job is knowing what the president and the high-ranking officials he brings to the podium have to say about the raging pandemic. I wondered: What is it like to tune in if they also, well, dislike the guy? Do they have any strategies or rituals that help them watch the show in its entirety? They do. Some yell at the screen. Others devour junk food or listen selectively for information that’s truly necessary, tuning out the rest. “You have to watch it with an animal next to you,” Steve Schmidt, a top adviser to the Republican presidential nominee John McCain’s 2008 campaign, told me.
Then there’s booze. Michael Steele is a former Republican National Committee chairman and an MSNBC commentator. When Trump comes on, the shot glasses come out.
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“I start off with a beer and, depending on the magnitude of crazy, I could be on tequila before too long,” Steele told me. “It just becomes too much,” he said, referring to Trump’s appearances. “It’s draining to the point past exhaustion.”
Democratic Representative Jackie Speier of California, who participated in impeachment hearings last year as part of the House Intelligence Committee, has been watching in a family room in her home. Beside her are bowls of popcorn and chips—“stuff with salt.”
“I find myself screaming at the TV a good part of the time,” Speier told me. She conceded that there are times when she’s had enough and simply gets up and leaves the room. “If I wore a blood-pressure cuff, it would explain why,” Speier said.
Hunkered down with her family in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Adrienne Elrod, a Democratic strategist, makes sure to have a glass of sauvignon blanc in hand. “Something to calm your nerves,” she told me. It doesn’t always work. When Trump told the CBS reporter Weijia Jiang to “keep your voice down” after she pressed him on his handling of the outbreak one day last week, Elrod turned to her 74-year-old father as they were cooking dinner: “Are you fucking kidding me?!”