A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
So much of the outrage about the revelations in Bob Woodward’s book “Rage;” so many of the viral posts on social media; so many of the statements from politicians and doctors expressing bewilderment; so much of the scrutiny of Woodward for withholding what he knew until now… So much of it is rooted in the fact that we can’t turn back the clock. We can’t contain the virus. We can’t bring the dead back to life.
Trump’s statements to Woodward force us, well, force some of us at least, to wonder: What if? What if Trump had risen to the occasion? What if he had been more forthright with the public about what he was hearing in private? What if the federal government’s early failures regarding testing hadn’t hobbled the initial response to the virus? What if the feds had closed the front door of the house, and all the side doors, in the form of earlier European travel bans, instead of just partially closing the back door from China?
I could go on and on but it’s mightily depressing. What if the president had addressed the nation once, twice, three times and introduced concepts like “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” in February? What if, instead of accusing Democrats of coming up with a “new hoax,” he had partnered with them? What if he had spent less time talking to Woodward? What if someone else had been president?
Just a couple more questions: What if this 9/11-level failure had been treated like a 9/11-level failure last spring? Would our children be back in school? Would some of our loved ones still be alive?
This is what Trump said six months ago Thursday
“It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away.”
Thursday’s front page
Trump’s remark to Woodward that “I wanted to always play it down” is plastered across the front page of the Washington Post:
“Honey, I’m talking to Bob Woodward”
Trump’s motivation for speaking and speaking and speaking with Woodward seems clear: He wanted to impress the legendary journalist. “Let’s see if we can get a good book,” Trump said in one of his calls with Woodward, almost as if the two men were playing a game.
As CNN’s WH team noted, “this was supposed to be the do-over.” Trump was furious that he didn’t cooperate for Woodward’s book “Fear,” so he “determined full participation with the follow-up would provide the best chance of securing a positive take on his rollicking tenure.” So they talked and talked… Sometimes late at night… At one point, when first lady Melania Trump came into the room, Woodward heard him say “Honey, I’m talking to Bob Woodward.”
CNN special correspondent Jamie Gangel, who obtained an early copy of the book, has a recap of other “unfiltered moments” from the book here. Of course, now Trump is directing his “Rage” at Woodward and calling it a “boring book” without reading it…
Will WH heads roll?
NPR’s Ron Elving writes: “Was there no one in Trump’s communications office to question this commitment of the president’s time? Who but Trump could have arranged 17 interviews with a man who had written critically of eight presidents, including an earlier book characterizing Trump as unprepared and unfit for his office, a national disaster waiting to happen?”
Elving notes that Woodward’s epilogue is “far more conclusive than in ‘Fear.’” The final sentence of the book reads, “When his performance as president is taken in its entirety, I can only reach one conclusion: Trump is the wrong man for the job.”