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Trump’s latest Fox Business interview was an elaborate distraction campaign

Trump wants to change the topic from coronavirus to conspiracy theories. Fox is helping him out.

President Donald Trump in the White House on May 13.
Doug Mills/Getty Images

President Donald Trump previewed his 2020 reelection messaging with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business in a lengthy interview that aired Thursday morning — one that amounted to an elaborate, conspiracy theory-driven attempt to change the topic from the coronavirus to his desire to imprison his political opponents.

That’s not to say the pandemic didn’t come up at all. At the beginning of the interview, Trump once again moved the goalposts about what he expects the ultimate US death toll to be, saying “we’re gonna lose over 100,000 perhaps.” But he compared that grim reality favorably with a situation in which the federal government took no action at all to slow the spread of the virus, and more than 2 million people died.

Trump has gradually increased his projected death toll as the number of lives lost in the US thanks to the coronavirus has increased. As recently as May 1 he was saying that “hopefully we are going to come in below that 100,000 lives lost.” But with nearly 85,000 already dead and the number of daily deaths not yet showing a clear downward trajectory, Trump keeps revising the numbers upward.

Instead of pressing Trump on the point, however, Bartiromo — who has a history of letting Trump rant about anything and everything during interviews — changed the topic to the economy. Trump acknowledged that the US unemployment rate will be over 10 percent on Election Day but expressed confidence he’ll win another term anyway. If that ends up happening, he’ll become the first president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt to win another term amid such a dire jobs situation.

With such bad news on the human and economic fronts, perhaps it’s not surprising that Trump seemed to be most excited about pushing his new “Obamagate” conspiracy theory about his predecessor, Barack Obama. While Trump himself hasn’t been able to explain what exactly “Obamagate” is, the general idea is that Obama was part of a conspiracy to use an FBI counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia to undermine his presidency before it even began.

There is no evidence that Obama did anything untoward — on the contrary, his administration was careful arguably to a fault to be perceived as not favoring Hillary Clinton — yet that didn’t stop Trump from suggesting that both Obama and Joe Biden should be in prison right now. It looks like for the second straight election cycle, Trump plans to make his desire to imprison prominent Democrats a central part of his campaign.

“If I were a Democrat instead of a Republican, I think everybody would’ve been in jail a long time ago, and I’m talking with 50-year sentences,” Trump claimed. “People should be going to jail for this stuff ... this was all Obama. This was all Biden.”

Later, as part of his attempt to rewrite the history of the Russia investigation, Trump went as far as to claim that “actually, [Russia] wanted Hillary Clinton to win.”

“Nobody’s been tougher — you can speak to Putin or anybody else — nobody has been tougher on Russian than I have,” he added. “They wanted Hillary Clinton to win.”

This claim is at odds with the consensus conclusion of the US intelligence community, a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, and even the words of Vladimir Putin himself — all of them affirming that Russia wanted Trump to win. But if viewers were hoping that Bartiromo would push back by pointing out the obvious, they were disappointed.

Fox is aiding in Trump’s effort to make his 2020 campaign a referendum on his favorite conspiracy theories

Over the course of Bartiromo’s Thursday morning show, “coronavirus” or “Covid-19” were mentioned the same amount of times (22) as “Obama.”

This reflects a broader trend at Fox News. According to a Media Matters study released Wednesday, Fox News’s coronavirus coverage has dropped by more than 40 percent from its peak. In recent days, the network has echoed Trump in trying to make “Obamagate,” whatever it is, into a story equal in stature to a pandemic that’s still killing about 1,500 Americans a day.

Shortly after Trump’s interview with Bartiromo aired, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce began to hear testimony from Dr. Rick Bright, the former director of the federal agency overseeing the development of a coronavirus vaccine who claims he was removed from his post following clashes with Trump administration officials over their pushing of unproven and potentially dangerous coronavirus treatments.

“The American health care system is being taxed to the limit,” Bright warned in his opening statement. “Our economy is spiraling downward and our population is being paralyzed by fear, stemming from a lack of a coordinated response and a dearth of accurate, clear information about the path forward.”

Trump, meanwhile, posted tweets alluding to his desire for Senate Republicans to hold an “Obamagate” show trial of sorts.

Tellingly, as Bright made his explosive opening statement, Fox News instead aired a lengthy interview with the White House press secretary. The network then spent most of the rest of the morning hyping “Obamagate.”