Recent reporting on President Donald Trump’s private contempt for U.S. troops resonates because it echoes what he has said in public. His decision to lie to Americans about the COVID-19 virus threat, reported in Bob Woodward’s new book “Rage,” has now been acknowledged by Trump. That, too, makes an impact in a country with more than 190,000 dead. What does not make an impact and what has not moved the polls are Trump’s serial attacks and conspiracy theories meant to convince the public that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden is a socialist or “sleepy” or drug-enhanced (not sleepy then, but peppy) or a patsy for China.
Trump’s attacks bounce off Biden in part because he is a well-known and well-liked fixture in American politics. No one outside of the Trump cult actually thinks Biden is a socialist; no one in his right mind thinks Biden uses drugs to improve his performances in public. Equally important, however, is Trump’s utter lack of credibility with a supermajority of Americans. Frankly, they are not inclined to believe much of anything that comes out of his mouth.
The latest ABC News-Ipsos poll underscores the president’s problem. “Trump’s approval for his handling of COVID-19 lands at 35% in the new survey . . . compared to 65% who disapprove,” ABC News reports. “This marks the fourth straight poll with Trump’s COVID response approval hovering in the low-to-mid 30s since early July.” The public’s view of Trump is deeply entrenched and overwhelmingly negative. A huge majority (68%) simply do not trust what Trump says and remain convinced he acted too slowly (67%). (Also notable — 61% think Biden has more respect for the military; only 37% say Trump does.)
Trump can tell whatever fables he wants to his unmasked crowds. Right-wing media will uncritically report it. Supposedly respectable conservative pundits will credulously accept his excuses and then change the subject. (Hey, how about Bahrain!) His cultist spokespeople cannot provide a coherent explanation for the pandemic’s U.S. death toll. (Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel says we have more fatalities because we test more. Huh?)
Thankfully, news interviewers are becoming more insistent that administration figures address the Trump covid-19 lies that surely encouraged many Americans to forgo precautions. On Sunday, CNN’s “State of the Union” host Jake Tapper masterfully refused to let trade adviser Peter Navarro duck a question about Trump’s deceit. “I said you’re not answering the question,” Tapper told Navarro. “I would just like to remind the American people watching that the United States has less than 5% of the world’s population, and the United States has more than 20% of the world’s coronavirus deaths. That is a fact. It does not matter how many times (Trump) insults CNN.” Like most Americans, the news media has run out of patience with the president’s lies and those who enable him, amid a death toll more than three times that of U.S. troops lost in the Vietnam War.
Once the public stops believing a president, there is little he can say to change their minds. As a flawed character witness he no longer has the capacity to defend himself. The cynical meme that “nothing matters” could not be more mistaken. After four years of habitual lying, Trump has lost all credibility — and with it the ability to explain away nearly 200,000 American deaths.
Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.