WASHINGTON – Under siege over his response to COVID-19 and continued protests against systemic racism, and facing multiple bad polls in his re-election bid against Joe Biden, President Donald Trump defended his performance in an interview broadcast Sunday – including his past claims that the coronavirus will simply “disappear.”
“I’ll be right eventually,” Trump told Chris Wallace, the host of Fox News Sunday, in the interview taped Friday. “You know, I said, ‘it’s going to disappear.’ I’ll say it again.”
Trump – as he did before his surprise victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 – also refused to say whether he would challenge the results of the election should he lose to Biden.
Claiming that “mail-in voting is going to rig the election,” Trump repeated his 2016 mantra that he can’t be sure he will accept the results of the election: “I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.”
President Donald Trump
Trump also defended Southerners who fly the Confederate battle flag, vowed to block efforts to change the names of military forts that honor Confederate generals, claimed Biden is mentally unfit, and described why he is no longer a friend of Fox News.
The embattled president also predicted he would win re-election, despite polls that he denounced as “fake.”
“Do you know how many times I’ve been written off,” he said at one point.
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Several viewers of the interview pointed out Trump’s repeated mis-statements. Political analyst Stuart Rothenberg said the Wallace interview “really shows who and what our President is. Incoherent. Idiotic. Rambling. Insensitive. Illogical. Ignorant. And worse. Great work by Chris Wallace.”
Wallace frequently sought to correct the president. The two men – who sat outside in the heat – argued frequently, such as when the president described the recent increases in COVID-19 cases as “burning embers;” Wallace said it was more like a “forest fire.”
During the course of the interview that last nearly an hour, Trump also:
– Downplayed the new spikes in COVID cases as “embers,” which Wallace described as more of a “forest fire.” Trump also claimed the death rate is going down, even though it has accelerated in recent days.
Trump, who is the past has declined to take responsibility for COVID problems, said, “look, I take responsibility, always, for everything because it’s ultimately my job, too. I have to get everybody in line.” He also attacked some state leaders, saying “some governors have done well, some governors have done poorly.”
Trump also attributed the rise in cases to increased testing, though experts say the increased rate of infections is far outpacing the increased rate of testing. Increases have come after states opted to re-open their economy, moves encouraged by the president.
– Denied that his staff has organized attacks on Dr. Anthony Fauci, but also criticized his administration’s top doctor by saying he has “made some mistakes” and is “a little bit of an alarmist.”
Fauci has said his some of views – such as those about the value of wearing masks – have changed as new evidence about the virus emerges. In an interview with InStyle.com, Fauci said he is an “apolitical person,” and “it’s pretty tough walking a tightrope while trying to get your message out and people are trying to pit you against the president.”
Reminded in the Fox News interview of his own false assessments about the threat posed by the virus, Trump said, “I guess everybody makes mistakes.”
– Refused to say whether he will sign a bill that grants pay raises to the military, but which also requires changing the names of forts dedicated to Confederate generals like Braxton Bragg.
Trump said military members will “get their pay raise,” but added he would continue to block changing the names of the forts, even though the Pentagon wants to do it.
“I don’t care what the military says,” Trump said. “I’m supposed to make the decision.”
At another point, Trump asked if officials wanted to name forts after “the Rev. Al Sharpton,” the Black civil rights leader. Pentagon officials have said they want to name the forts after post-Civil War military officials like Omar Bradley and Matthew Ridgway.
– Said that people who want to fly Confederate battle flags “love their flag” and “it represents the South, they like the South.” Trump added that he is “not offended” by people flying “Blacks Lives Matter” flags, and said both involve “freedom of speech.”
– Suggested he might not sign a new economic stimulus bill if it does not include legal immunity for business people who fear being sued over the spread of COVID-19 and a payroll tax cut. Some legislators have been cool to both ideas.
“I’ll have to see but, yeah, I would consider not signing it if we don’t have a payroll tax cut, yes,” Trump told Fox News.
– Condemned the new book by his niece Mary Trump, who said the president was scarred by his hyper-competitive father and developed habits of lying and self-deception that followed him into the White House.
Trump called the book “a lie,” and described his father as “a very good man” who simply didn’t like to lose.
– Proclaimed that Fox News – once his favorite network – has “changed a lot” since the days when Roger Ailes ran it, in part because it interviews too many Democrats. “I’m a big fan of Fox,” Trump said.
– Said he doesn’t think Biden is “senile,” but “I’d say he’s not competent to be president.” At another point, however, he said “Joe doesn’t know he’s alive.”
Biden has said he is happy to match wits with Trump anytime.
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Trump sat for the interview as a spate of new polls showed Biden with a double-digit lead.
A Washington Post-ABC News survey published early Sunday gave Biden a lead of 55%-40% among registered voters, up from a 10 point lead Biden had in the poll in May.
Fox News taped the interview with Trump on Friday (before the death of congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis).
Wallace fact-checked Trump frequently during the interview, including the president’s false claim that Biden has advocated “de-funding” the police. The presumptive Democratic nominee has never used the phrase.
Some analysts said Trump is simply making up things about his administration’s COVID response.
“Chris Wallace asked the president about his many many incorrect statements about the pandemic,” tweeted Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine at George Washington University. “The president’s response: ‘I’ll be right eventually.’ Reminds me of an old adage in medicine: ‘All bleeding stops eventually.'”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: ‘I’ll be right eventually:’ Donald Trump defends his COVID-19 response