Daily US Times: Donald Trump’s weak and flailing interview with Jonathan Swan of Axios fired a warning flare about his hopes for reelection in November if his campaign and White House staff programed to fulfill his yearning for praise are prepared to recognize it.
Trump came across as narcissistic, ill-prepared, and far from in control of the coronavirus pandemic. It was a far cry from the image of courageous leadership and energetic, unstinting commitment on behalf of American citizens that his administration spends every day trying to sketch.
It is hard to remember an interview in which a sitting President was seemed so unequal and more unsparingly exposed to the magnitude of a crisis that is threatening the Americans and is nowhere near ending.
And Mr Trump’s sit-down with Swan came just about a month and a half before his first presidential debate clash with Democratic nominee Joe Biden. The President’s struggles offer plenty of fodder for Biden’s debate prep team as they plot his strategy and train up their man for what could be the most important moment of the most unusual presidential campaign.
When Trump was fact-checked in real time, his flame-throwing interview technique fizzled. When the Axios journalist frustrated his scattershot attempts to jump to another subject, Trump wilted. Under pressure, Mr Trump provided the kind of offhand remark that could define a political race if properly used by an opponent.
“It is what it is,” Trump said, appearing disconnected and callous about a Covid-19 death toll that has crossed 150,000 Americans. When he was challenged, Trump responded with nonsensical answers, grasping for a counter to simple questions about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump said “We’re lower than the world,” in an incomprehensible response when pushed on why the United States has a death toll that averaged 1,000 a day in recent weeks and is expected to go even higher. When the President made the unfounded claim that there are “those” who say there can be too much coronavirus testing, Trump bizarrely claimed “books” and “manuals” said so.
The interview was unrecognizable from the unchallenging and friendly conversations he enjoys with Fox News opinion hosts and other conservative media figures, who play into his craving for adulation that is also often provided by subordinates like Vice President Mike Pence.
There is a long tradition of presidents, unprepared and complacent, walking into a debate clash with a challenger. Presidents are not used to people getting in their cage. They’ve spent four years seeing people stand when they walk into a room and flying around the world in Air Force One.
President Barack Obama was roughed up by his challenger Mitt Romney in 2012, after infuriating his campaign staff with his unfocused manner at his debate camp.
President George H.W. Bush never seemed the equal of the younger Bill Clinton in 1992. In their second encounter, with an infamous glance at his watch, he played into played into his challenger’s claims that he was oblivious to the suffering of ordinary Americans amid a recession.
President Ronald Reagan struggled through his first debate with Democratic nominee Walter Mondale in 1984, playing into Democratic claims that he was too old and tired to win a second term. Only a stellar performance in a second debate, that contained one of the greatest presidential zingers of all time (“I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience,”) rescued Reagan.
Two of those three presidents pulled themselves up and went on to win reelection weeks later. But they got the kind of wake-up call that Trump received in his interview with Axios. The question now is whether a President who prizes gut calls and abhors preparation and details will hear a similar message the previous presidents did.
Trump is so adept and unpredictable at bending the medium of television to his will that he could well put on a strong performance at the debates that convinces wavering supporters to return to his fold. Or he could so disorientate the Democratic candidate Joe Biden — who has spent months out of the spotlight during the pandemic — that the Trump campaign’s claims about his capacity find some traction.