Recuperating from the coronavirus and plunging in the polls, US President Donald Trump is retreating to his safe spaces: Twitter, Fox, and rallies.
On Thursday Trump started and ended his day on Fox. And, as if those appeals to his base weren't enough, he is also holding a "virtual rally" on Rush Limbaugh's radio show Friday afternoon.
In the morning, the President phoned into Fox Business for a rambling, off-the-rails conversation with journalist-turned-sycophant Maria Bartiromo. At this point she might as well be a spokesperson for the Trump campaign. As Washington Post's Philip Bump wrote, she has "served as little more than a hype woman, setting Trump up with softball questions and encouraging his responses. It wasn't the first time she has played such a role, but it was nonetheless remarkable to see the scope of her disinterest in posing any challenge to the president."
While speaking with Bartiromo, Trump ranted and raved about his political enemies. He implored Attorney General Bill Barr to "indict these people for crimes," specifically naming Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Hours later, after Trump's interview with Bartiromo had faded to a degree from memory, Jeffrey Toobin tweeted: "Just so it's clear. [Trump] today called for [Obama] and [Biden] to be indicted and prosecuted. Have our standards fallen so far that this kind of antidemocratic authoritarian behavior passes without criticism? Is this now normal?"
A coughing Trump insists he's well
Trump continued to careen from topic to topic on Sean Hannity's show, promoting conspiracy theories, peddling falsehoods, and launching attacks on Democrats and the media during a roughly 25 minute conversation. But it was arguably the President's health that took center stage. During the interview, Hannity twice asked Trump if he had been tested for the coronavirus since he became ill last week. It was a question that the President apparently couldn't answer. Trump instead said that he will "probably" be tested on Friday. Medhi Hasan quipped about the non-answer, "Mark the date, we have reached the point where even Sean Hannity is asking Trump simple questions that the president can't or won't answer."
It wasn't just Trump's comments on his health that drew attention. It was what the audience could hear at home. At least twice during the interview, Trump had to pause his sentences and audibly clear his throat and cough. The President insisted he was feeling great, claiming he saw his doctors earlier in the day and that they believe him to be in "great shape." But he sure didn't sound like he was cured, as he claimed to be.
...says he might hold rally on Saturday
After Trump boasted about how great he felt and the treatment he had received, he told Hannity, "I think I'm going to try doing a rally on Saturday night. If we have enough time to put it together. But we want to do a rally in Florida probably on Saturday night. Might come back and do one in Pennsylvania the following night." His comment aligned with reporting from the New York Times' Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman, who wrote earlier that an "angry" Trump who was watching the news coverage of the political race had "been imploring aides to let him resume campaign rallies as soon as this weekend."
Reminder: The President's doctor has not held a news conference to brief the pubic about Trump's health and allow for reporters to take questions since Monday — all as Trump, sick with the coronavirus, coughs during a national TV interview while suggesting he might do a rally in days. This is an unacceptable level of transparency from the White House.
Trump on Rush
From a strategy point of view, it's always been bizarre to me that Trump hasn't called into nationally syndicated right-wing radio shows more often. Yes, Fox News reaches a large swath of his base. But Rush Limbaugh is a powerhouse. Limbaugh, who has been off the air this week while undergoing treatments, said Thursday that Friday will be the "largest virtual rally in radio history."
Brian Stelter adds: "I'd like to make a little bit of a prediction here. There has been lots of talk about whether Trump would launch a TV network if he loses the election. What if the speculation has been right but the medium has been wrong? What if he ends up with a high-profile talk radio gig next year?"
Speaking of right-wing media's influence...
CNN's Sandee LaMotte reports: "Viewers who trust Fox News coverage more than CNN's are slightly less likely to take preventative measures against the novel coronavirus and a little more likely to put themselves at risk, according to a new study published Thursday in the journal BMJ Global Health."
Also this week, a new report from Pew found that 90% of Republicans who only listened to Fox News or talk radio as major sources of political news said the country has controlled the outbreak as well as it could. Fox loyalists were also more likely to feel like the pandemic has been overblown: "As of early September, among Republicans with only Fox News and/or talk radio as major news sources, 78% say the coronavirus has been made a bigger deal than it really is." Only small numbers of Democrats made similar assertions...
Fourth member of White House press corps tests positive
Another member of the White House press corps tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday — meaning that four journalists have now been infected ibecause of the outbreak that has swallowed the West Wing. The White House Correspondents Association emailed members to let them know that a journalist "received a preliminary positive result for COVID-19 today after undergoing a rapid test." The person is now awaiting results from a PCR test and is "currently asymptomatic." According to WHCA, the person was last at the White House on October 1, a full week ago.