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Opinion Kayleigh McEnany just one-upped Sean Spicer

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany holds the daily briefing at the White House on Sept. 9. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Eighth in an occasional series on White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, to prove the impossibility of speaking for President Trump.

When the novel coronavirus emerged as a threat at the beginning of the year, President Trump struck a reassuring tone. Examples: “We do have a plan and we think it’s gonna be handled very well, we’ve already handled it very well,” (Jan. 22), “We have it very much under control in this country,” (Feb. 23), “Just stay calm. It will go away.” (March 10).

So it’s no great surprise that Trump told author Bob Woodward on March 19, “To be honest with you, I wanted to always play it down.” That quote stems from a story in The Post stemming from Woodward’s new book, “Rage,” which relies on 18 on-the-record interviews with Trump spanning last December through July.

That story surfaced at 11:55 a.m. on Wednesday, just five minutes before the scheduled start of a briefing hosted by White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany. She was about an hour late in arriving at the lectern. Apparently that’s how long it takes to rig up her gaslight.

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“At a time when you’re facing insurmountable challenges, it’s important to express confidence, it’s important to express calm,” said McEnany when asked by CBS News’s Paula Reid whether the president had intentionally misled the country about the danger from the coronavirus. McEnany stressed another part of Trump’s remarks to Woodward: “I still like playing it down because I don’t want to create a panic.”

Even as the number of U.S. coronavirus cases passes 3 million, President Trump has repeatedly played down covid-19’s toll on the country. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jonathan Newton / Washington Post/The Washington Post)

McEnany: “The president was expressing calm, and his actions reflect that.” She also cited Anthony S. Fauci’s statement that Trump’s response was “impressive.” ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl asked the press secretary to reconcile Trump’s comment to Woodward that the coronavirus was “more deadly than even your strenuous flu” with his public likening of covid-19 to the flu. What about that contradiction?

The press secretary had prepared a binder entry for that one. “Well, the president was listening to his medical experts. Because you also had at that same time period Dr. Fauci, who said this. Asked if the seasonal flu was a bigger concern, he said this on Feb. 17: ‘So right now, at the same time people are worrying about going to a Chinese restaurant, the threat is that what we have in this country, we’re having a pretty bad influenza season, particularly dangerous for our children.’”

At a March 30 briefing, Trump declared that he wanted to keep the country calm, noted McEnany. “That is what leaders do, and that is what President Trump does,” said the press secretary on Wednesday.

Another question that came at McEnany was packed with an irrefutable premise: “How can the president bear no responsibility for the almost 200,000 lives lost when he downplayed the virus initially and he knew how contagious and deadly it was?”

On cue, McEnany trampled the on-the-record remarks of her boss. “The president never downplayed the virus, once again,” said McEnany, who at this very moment was taking her place alongside Sean Spicer and Sarah Sanders with her willingness to sacrifice her credibility for a man who cares about nothing but himself. “The president expressed calm, the president was serious about this when Democrats were pursuing their sham impeachment, he was expressing calm and he was taking early action and his actions are reflective of how seriously he took” the coronavirus, she said, later adding that Trump embodied the “American spirit.”

There you have it: So desperate is the Trump White House that it’s not only defending lies, it’s now asserting their centrality to presidential leadership. If the goal is to calm the American public, who cares about the facts?

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