“President Trump has repeatedly said that Americans should consult with medical doctors regarding coronavirus treatment, a point that he emphasized again during yesterday’s briefing,” she said. “Leave it to the media to irresponsibly take President Trump out of context.”
Except now, Trump has weighed in, too. And his explanation doesn’t at all match McEnany’s.
Rather than argue he didn’t say it or that it was taken out of context, Trump granted that he had said it but said he was just being sarcastic. He claimed he was trying to goad the media.
“I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen,” Trump said.
The just-joking defense has become a popular one for Trump when he says something highly controversial, as The Fix’s J.M. Rieger detailed a few months back. And it’s often a ridiculous assertion, as it is in this case. Trump’s expression gave no indication whatsoever he was joking, nor did coronavirus task force medical expert Deborah Birx seem to react as if she was in on the joke.
Trump also said Friday that he was looking at a reporter when he made the comment. But he was looking at his task force members, and the reporter he said that to wasn’t actually at the briefing. And he later floated another idea for treatment involving heat and light to Birx, which she took as being a serious proposal.
Trump literally said, “I see the disinfectant that knocks it out in a minute, one minute,” referring to disinfectants such as isopropyl alcohol that had previously been brought up at the briefing. “And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning? Because you see it gets inside the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it would be interesting to check that.” When he was later pressed by The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker on why he was trafficking in such speculative ideas, Trump didn’t back off or give any indication it was some kind of ruse. Instead he got angry with Rucker.
But setting all that aside, Trump just threw all those people who made the argument McEnany was making under the bus.
One of them was Breitbart News, which Thursday night quickly ran what it portrayed as a fact check of Trump’s comments. Witness this amazing argument: “Trump used the word ‘inject,’ but what he meant was using a process — which he left ‘medical doctors’ to define — in which patients’ lungs might be cleared of the virus, given new knowledge about its response to light and other factors.”
Here’s another representative defense:
Trump didn't "urge" or "suggest" injecting disinfectant into the body— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) April 24, 2020
Trump didn't say anything about drinking bleach
Trump did ask whether we could inject disinfectant into the body
Which is very stupid
Just as the media's lies are very stupid
Everything is very stupid
Other defenses even suggested Trump was on to something — that he was actually pointing in the direction of some kind of cutting-edge technology.
Those defenses are now rendered inoperable. You can’t have not said the thing if you were just joking when you said the thing. McEnany’s defense of her boss compared with what Trump now says sure makes it sound like she doesn’t know what’s going on — if anyone in the White House truly does.
But we’ve been here before. White House aides will often be dispatched to defend the boss’s controversial comments or actions, make a strained argument, and then have the boss negate the argument.
When The Post reported that Trump had shared classified information with Russians in the Oval Office, then-national security adviser H.R. McMaster flatly rejected the notion. “I was in the room,” McMaster said. “It did not happen.” Except then Trump said he had the “absolute right” to share the information.
As President I wanted to share with Russia (at an openly scheduled W.H. meeting) which I have the absolute right to do, facts pertaining....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 16, 2017
When Trump fired FBI Director James B. Comey, then-press secretary Sean Spicer said it was Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein’s decision, while others including Vice President Pence said the Russia investigation didn’t factor into it. Except then Trump went on TV and said he was going to fire Comey regardless of Rosenstein’s advice and admitted the investigation was on his mind when made the call.
When Trump was being criticized for his travel ban on majority-Muslim countries, then-White House chief of staff John Kelly attacked reporters for calling it a “ban.” But then Trump himself said, “People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!”
These are just a few of the many examples.
But there’s also one last point here that’s important, and that’s this: Even if we are to take Trump’s claim that he was being sarcastic at face value, that’s a heck of a thing to be sarcastic about — and to wait 16 hours to clarify. Those were 16 hours in which disinfectant brands and health officials were anxiously warning people against ingesting such products, and some health officials say they’ve received inquires about it. Making such a joke and then waiting to reveal it as a joke would seem irresponsible at best and dangerous at worst. The president may joke about things, but this is pretty high on the list of things that should never be the subject of sarcasm.
But of course, it’s pretty obvious he wasn’t joking — and that, despite the defenses, this was an idea that he did in fact float, however inelegantly and intentionally.