A single line from this Axios piece, quoting someone “close to the deliberations” about the briefings, summarizes the diminishing returns from Trump’s appearances better than I can: “I mean, you wonder how we got to the point where you’re talking about injecting disinfectant.”
Republicans have been warning him for weeks that the briefings are doing him more harm than good politically but it’s impossible to convince a narcissist that *more* exposure might lead people to like him *less.* The mockery he’s endured since Thursday night’s fiasco over disinfectant treatments for COVID may have finally persuaded him to cut his losses. Yesterday’s briefing was unusually short and he took no questions, no doubt knowing what those questions would entail. Now sources are whispering that he may start cutting back his appearances, showing up only sporadically to announce good news.
I give it five days before he’s doing hour-long Q&A’s again. A week, tops.
President Trump plans to pare back his coronavirus press conferences, according to four sources familiar with the internal deliberations.
He may stop appearing daily and make shorter appearances when he does, the sources said — a practice that may have started with Friday’s unusually short briefing…
“I told him it’s not helping him,” said one adviser to the president. “Seniors are scared. And the spectacle of him fighting with the press isn’t what people want to see.”
CNN has background on how his already legendary monologue about “bringing light into the body” came to be. Because he only rarely attends Pence’s coronavirus task force meetings (sometimes not for 10 days at a time), his chance to ask questions about DHS’s findings on how sunlight and disinfectant affect the virus was limited to a “quick” briefing by a DHS official in the minutes before the evening news conference. He ended up reacting to the new information while at the podium, live to the whole world, and because he believes he’s a genius it didn’t occur to him that his idea of “cleaning” the body somehow might be considered … not genius.
The humiliation may have steered him towards finally pulling the plug. But there’s hard data weighing on him too:
Republicans were taken aback this past week by the results of a 17-state survey commissioned by the Republican National Committee. It found the president struggling in the Electoral College battlegrounds and likely to lose without signs of an economic rebound this fall, according to a party strategist outside the R.N.C. who is familiar with the poll’s results.
The Trump campaign’s own surveys have also shown an erosion of support, according to four people familiar with the data, as the coronavirus remains the No. 1 issue worrying voters…
Republican lawmakers have gone from watching his lengthy daily briefings with a tight-lipped grimace to looking upon them with horror…
One prominent G.O.P. senator said the nightly sessions were so painful he could not bear watching any longer.
Some Republicans fear that this is shaping up to be a replay of the 2006 and 2008 cycles, in which the party was brutalized in the midterms and then wiped out in the presidential election. Currently, Dem fundraising in key congressional races far outpaces the GOP’s. The best thing the president could do for himself is follow Biden’s lead by lowering his public profile and letting the more competent members of the task force — Birx, Fauci, even Pence — become the face of the federal government’s COVID response. The more public trust rises that the White House is equal to the challenge, the more Trump will benefit politically.
But even if he avoids the cameras, there’s no way to keep him off of Twitter, posting stuff like this:
We have now Tested more than 5 Million People. That is more than any other country in the World, and even more than all major countries combined!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 25, 2020
It’s true that the U.S. has tested more than any other country (although not true that we’ve tested more than all other major countries combined), but the raw numbers of testing don’t tell us anything. We’re the third most populous country in the world; of course we’re going to test more people than most others are. The relevant number is how many we’re testing per capita. In that metric we’re behind Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Australia, Belgium, even Russia. Even if we were ahead of them, it wouldn’t change the fact that most epidemiologists believe we need many more tests per capita to reach a point where we can safely reopen most of the country without fear of a sudden spike.
Tweeting about how many tests we’ve already performed suggests complacency about that, the last thing people want to see. His message every day should focus on what progress has been made in the past 24 hours to get us to the testing levels we need. Focusing instead on testing that’s already been done smacks of him having given up on the possibility of progress. “His logic [insisting on doing daily briefings] failed to take into account the reality that not every American who tunes in to the nightly briefings will ultimately vote for Trump in the fall, especially suburban and female voters whom White House advisers have long worried about,” Politico wrote today. That’s also his logic in tweeting about how many tests have already been done. It’s a talking point for his base, not an earnest attempt to address the ongoing problem with testing. He’s convinced himself either that the whole country reacts to him the way his base does or that there are enough members of his base that he can win this fall simply by continually pandering to them.
His aides are going to try to scratch his itch to appear in front of admiring audiences by sending him on the road, possibly on goodwill visits to businesses that have reopened, so that he has another outlet apart from the daily briefing to get face time with fans that he used to get at rallies. Next stop: West Point?