More from the new normal as the President of the United States admitted on Monday to taking an anti-malarial drug that he has no reason to take except that he gets “a lot of positive calls about it”.
The drug is, of course, the now quasi-mythical hydroxychloroquine which has been the subject of some controversy in recent months. Trump has been talking about it as a magical cure, but it has also been linked to the deaths of two dozen patients who succumbed after taking the antiviral as a possible treatment for COVID-19.
Hardly surprising, then, when the President’s admission was greeted with universal dismay. Even Fox News host Neil Cavuto was quick to point out that “it will kill you”. How far that is true, we can’t possibly tell but it’s certainly obvious how easily Trump can dictate the news agenda. Yet what’s perhaps most remarkable is how this admission is possibly the least crazy thing the President has said or done in the past few days.
Meanwhile, military analysts should still be poring over the details of the newest range of hypersonic missiles that Trump announced at the unveiling of his new Space Force flag in the Oval Office on Friday.
We can (and, for our sanity, should) laugh but it’s quite clear that Steve Bannon’s maxim of “filling the zone with s***” remains the operating principle of this presidency, as Trump continues to struggle against the tides of science, politics, and polling.
US deaths due to the coronavirus are expected to hit 100,000 by the first day of June, which might not be surprising but it a stark contrast to earlier boasts when Trump predicted that his administration would do so much better.
Things are little better politically. On Friday, Trump fired his fifth Inspector General in only six weeks, continuing his habit of leaving his dirty work until late at night when it can’t be picked up by the regular weekday press. The polls continue to show Trump trailing his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, in key races.
Team Trump’s campaign would be quick to point out that there’s a way to go until November, but Trump is already looking weak against a candidate who, thus far, has been working out of his basement. Biden has certainly been helped by the work of “The Lincoln Project”, media-savvy Republicans working against the President, but it could get even worse for Trump. The Democrats have finally signed up to a cross-party agreement that raises their donation cap to $620,600 per donor. Extra money will be useful. Biden’s team have also announced they’ll be boosting their operations in key battleground states in the coming days.
With so much bad news, the truth of Trump’s hydroxychloroquine admission begins to seem less likely. It came during a long rambling reply at a White House roundtable with restaurant executives. After attacking all his usual bogeymen, Trump suddenly turned to the subject of his favourite miracle cure. “I was just waiting to see your eyes light up when I said this,” he admitted, which perhaps indicates the confession was prepared.
We do know, however, that Trump sounds more desperate every time he escalates his rhetoric. His attempts at turning “Obamagate” into a real investigation stumbled a bit on Monday when his friendly neighbourhood crime fighter, Bill Barr, made an admission. “Whatever [Obama and Biden’s] level of involvement based on the level of information I have today, I don’t expect [it] will lead to a criminal investigation of either man.”
Even Senator Lindsey Graham thought that subpoenaing President Obama was a step too far, though he is expected to seek testimony from officials connected to the investigations into the Russian interference in the 2016 election.
It all makes for some intriguing politics. If Trump continues to taunt Obama, he might yet be surprised at how quickly the former president takes up the offer of a public fight. A recent Monmouth poll found that 57% of Americans have a favourable opinion of Obama, compared with only 40% for Trump. That should make him cautious.
It would be foolish to misconstrue the reticence of the 44th president to undermine the administration of the 45th. Simply as the last president of a moderately normal America, Obama remains a potent force and he will clearly prove useful to Biden. You might even say that Trump might yet find that he isn’t the only candidate with a super-duper weapon at his disposal.