President Donald Trump’s impromptu news conference late on Tuesday afternoon began with him musing about taking insulin just for fun and ended with him explaining his opposition to mail-in voting by characterizing voting as “an honor” (it’s actually a right). The stuff he said in between wasn’t any less wacky.
The event, which came on the same day that the official US coronavirus death toll closes in on 100,000 and was ostensibly about what his administration is doing to bring down the price of insulin, revealed how out of his depth Trump is in trying to respond to a public health crisis that requires scientific expertise — as well as how desperate he is to generate distractions giving him something else to talk about.
For anyone who isn’t already drinking the MAGA Kool-Aid, it was not a reassuring spectacle.
The president is hopelessly confused about how masks work
The first question Trump fielded was from Jeff Mason of Reuters, who asked him to explain a retweet he posted on Monday seemingly mocking presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for wearing a mask during a public appearance earlier in the day. Trump’s response indicated he’s deeply confused about how masks work.
“He was standing outside with his wife, perfect conditions, perfect weather — when they’re inside they don’t wear masks,” Trump said. “And so I thought it was very unusual he had one on.”
Trump on why he seemingly criticized Biden for wearing a mask: "He was standing outside with his wife, perfect conditions, perfect weather -- when they're inside they don't wear masks. And so I thought it was very unusual he had one on." pic.twitter.com/zTcft2ymUP— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 26, 2020
But all Biden was doing was following the guidance of Trump’s own government about wearing masks in public. Trump seems to think he should also be wearing a mask at home, but the entire point is to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus when people are out and about — something Biden obviously doesn’t have to worry about at home. But even this basic understanding of how masks work is seemingly lost on the president.
Then, as Mason tried to ask a follow-up question, Trump cut him off and asked him to remove his mask. Mason refused, prompting Trump to dismiss mask-wearing as an effort to be “politically correct.”
“You want to be politically correct,” Trump said.
“No sir, I just want to wear the mask,” Mason responded.
To be clear, Mason was following the guidance of the federal government. Trump — who was not wearing a mask — was not. And yet here was the president chastising someone for taking basic precautions that are in the public interest and that he refuses to follow himself.
Trump won’t stop pushing baseless murder conspiracies
Trump’s retweet mocking Biden for wearing a mask was far from his only objectionable post. He also posted tweets over the weekend pushing a baseless conspiracy meant to implicate a prominent critic of his, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, in the death of a woman named Lori Klausutis. (Trump has repeatedly falsely characterized the situation as a “cold case” — in fact, the woman died of natural causes.)
On Monday, Klausutis’s widower went as far as to pen a letter asking Twitter to take Trump’s tweet down, citing the trauma they’re inflicting on Klausutis’s family. But asked to address the situation on Tuesday, Trump indicated he has no regrets.
“A lot of people suggest that,” Trump said, alluding to his false claims about Scarborough’s involvement. “Hopefully somebody, people are gonna find out. Certainly a very suspicious situation. Very sad.”
But the situation isn’t suspicious. It has been investigated, and Klausutis was found to have died of natural causes. And yet during a follow-up exchange, Trump noted “there is no statute of limitations” and called for a baseless investigation into a prominent critic of his.
"A lot of people suggest that ... very sad and very suspicious ... there is no statute of limitations. So, it would be a very good thing to do" -- Trump defends pushing false Joe Scarborough conspiracy theories and calls for him to be investigated pic.twitter.com/NeJQ2uBZp8— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 26, 2020
Trump’s behavior is clearly indecent, but he’s either incapable of or unwilling to recognize that. His call for transparently politicized investigations into discredited conspiracy theories would’ve generated major headlines in any previous era, but in 2020 it’s just Trump being Trump.
The Scarborough conspiracy theory was far from the only one Trump pushed during Tuesday’s event. He accused North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) of acting “very suspiciously” by refusing to commit to allowing 20,000 people to pack into a Charlotte arena for the Republican National Convention in August, even though Cooper has obvious commonsense reasons for being unwilling to do so at a time when coronavirus cases in his state are still increasing.
And Trump also tried to discredit mail-in voting by saying it would “destroy our country” and lead to “a rigged system” — even though five states, including deep-red Utah, already conduct their elections almost entirely with mail-in ballots.
Asked to explain his opposition to mail-in voting, claims "voting is a great honor" (it's actually a right) and then ends his news conference pic.twitter.com/H0UDVDGgxC— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 26, 2020
Trump makes all sorts of stuff up
Trump spent Saturday and Sunday at the golf course, yet he wants people to believe that forcing states to reopen places of worship is something he’s deadly serious about doing. Trump doesn’t really have the power to follow through on this threat, which he first made during a White House event last Friday, but he’s not about to let the Constitution get in the way of his narrative.
Asked on Tuesday to detail what authority gives him the power to override governors and force open places of worship that have already proven to be coronavirus vectors, Trump claimed, “I can absolutely do it if I want to” — but couldn’t cite anything.
“We have many different ways where we could override them,” he said, without elaborating, before moving on.
"I can absolutely do it if I want to" -- Trump insists he has the authority to overrule state governors if they refuse to reopen places of worship (he does not have that authority) pic.twitter.com/GxslxOJf1t— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) May 26, 2020
All in all, the event was both a throwback to the lengthy and at times highly confrontational news conferences Trump held just about every day in March and April — made-for-TV events he clearly enjoyed but that exposed his ignorance and ended after his advisers reportedly concluded they were hurting Trump in the polls.
Trump clearly can’t help himself — ignorant comments, conspiracy theories, and baseless claims are just his thing. But in the context of a pandemic he was unprepared for and has no plan to pull the country out of, the unintentional comedy seems less amusing than ever.