It’s all for naught, of course: Organizational acumen in service of a lying, un-decent boss merely advances the cause of misinformation.
On Monday, McEnany received inquiries about a curious remark that President Trump had made during his poorly attended rally in Tulsa on Saturday. In a riff about his administration’s actions against the novel coronavirus, Trump said, in part:
And with testing, you know, testing is a double-edged sword. We’ve tested now 25 million people. It’s probably 20 million people more than anybody else. Germany’s done a lot. South Korea has done a lot.They called me, they said, the job you’re doing. … Here’s the bad part. When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people slow the testing down, please. They test and they test.
In a Monday interview with the president, Scripps correspondent Joe St. George asked whether the president had actually delivered the instruction to slow down testing. “If it did slow down, frankly, I think we’re way ahead of ourselves,” Trump said in a classic nonresponse.
When her time came to address the slowdown chatter, McEnany inserted the media into the picture: “The president was trying to expose — what the media oftentimes does is they ignore the fact that the United States has more cases because we have more testing. We are leading the world in testing, and he was pointing that out that it’s a fact that the media readily ignores,” said McEnany at her Monday briefing. She also said that “any suggestion that testing has been curtailed is not rooted in fact” and, further, that “it was a comment that he made in jest. It’s a comment that he made in passing.”
So there, you humorless reporters — you missed the humor about testing for a disease that has killed nearly 120,000 Americans.
Or maybe not. In remarks before his departure for Arizona on Tuesday morning, this exchange transpired:
Q: Mr. President, at that rally, when you said you asked your people to slow down testing, were you just kidding or do you have a plan to slow down testing?THE PRESIDENT: I don’t kid. Let me just tell you — let me make it clear: We have got the greatest testing program anywhere in the world. We test better than anybody in the world. Our tests are the best in the world, and we have the most of them.By having more tests, we find more cases. We did 25-plus — 25 million tests. Think of that: 25 million. If you look at other countries, they did 1 million, 2 million, 3 million. Big countries. We did 25 million. Way more by double, triple, quadruple any other country. Therefore, with tests, we’re going to have more cases. By having more cases, it sounds bad, but actually what it is, is we’re finding people. Many of those people aren’t sick or very little. You know, they may be young people.But what’s happened is, because of all of the cases that we find, we have a very low mortality rate, just about the best in the world. So that’s the advantage to the testing, along with other things. But just remember this: The reason we have more cases than other countries is because our testing is so much.
Where does that leave McEnany and her assertion that the president was speaking “in jest”? We’ve asked her to comment on the matter and will update this post with any response.
There are a few options for McEnany as this particular controversy plays out:
- Ignore it — stay away from the briefings for a few days and wait until more pressing stories overtake the testing question.
- Split the difference — Trump did say in an interview with CBN News that his comment in the rally was “semi tongue-in-cheek.”
- Apologize and retract. Yeah, right.
As McEnany made her “jest” comment, she began her merger with the legacy of Sarah Sanders, one of her predecessors at the Trump lectern. In 2017, Sanders invoked the “joke” excuse as she sought to downplay Trump’s endorsement of rough police treatment of suspects. She went back to that well in February 2018, saying that Trump was “clearly joking” when he said that Democrats’ failure to cheer at some points during his State of the Union address was “treasonous.” And in April 2019, Sanders remarked that Trump was joking during his presidential campaign, when he spoke of how he “loved” WikiLeaks. (For other instances where the “joke” defense of Trump’s irresponsible comments have been invoked, see this.)
When in doubt, in other words, use the joke defense.
As the summer wears on, as the coronavirus refuses to go away, as Trump continues to lie each day, the pressure on McEnany will mount. The briefing room lectern, after all, is the most public pressure point for the corruption and mendacity that courses through the White House corridors. It’s there, after all, that someone — now McEnany; before her, Sanders and Sean Spicer (former press secretary Stephanie Grisham didn’t hold a briefing) — has to stand before the correspondents and provide answers. Or, as the case may be, “answers”; no amount of preparation is sufficient for whomever holds the title of Trump press secretary.
The impossibility of doing this job in a way that approximates honor and integrity is why this blog launched “The Daily Spicer” and the “Sarah Sanders Watch.” Now we’ll be keeping a close eye on McEnany as she negotiates her professional dilemma: Cover for the president’s lies or lose her standing in Trump world. There will be plenty of material.
UPDATE: It turns out there was as fourth option for McEnany in reconciling her “in jest” comment with the president’s claim that he doesn’t kid. And that fourth option is just to say something nonsensical, which is what McEnany did in a gaggle aboard Air Force One en route to Arizona on Tuesday. Here’s how she answered a question as to whether she wanted to amend her statement:
So, first, let me note — I’ve talked to the President about testing a lot today — he has made it abundantly clear that he appreciates testing, that we have tested more Americans than any other country has tested in their respective countries in the world.But what he was making was a serious point, and that’s why he said, “I don’t kid.” He was noting he was making a serious point, but he was using sarcasm to do that at the rally. And the serious point he was making is that when you test more people, you identify more cases.