Speed Reads

Coronavirus politics

Trump's allies are urging him to give up center stage at the coronavirus briefings. He says no, citing 'ratings.'

President Trump tweeted Wednesday that "the Radical Left Democrats have gone absolutely crazy that I am doing daily presidential news conferences," adding that "the ratings are through the roof." But it was The Wall Street Journal's conservative editorial page that urged Trump, a few hours later, to give up his favorite "showcase" and let Vice President Mike Pence and "his first-rate health experts" run the briefings.

When the briefings started, "Trump benefited in the polls not because he was the center of attention but because he showed he had put together a team of experts working to overcome a national health crisis," the Journal editorialists said. Now each briefing devolves into a "dispiriting brawl" with the press, and "the president's outbursts against his political critics are also notably off key at this moment. This isn't impeachment, and COVID-19 isn't shifty Schiff. It's a once-a-century threat to American life and livelihood."

Trump rejected the advice.

Fox News senior analyst Brit Hume called that "a ridiculous tweet," adding that Trump "could get his views across without bragging, endlessly repeating himself, and getting into petty squabbles" with the press. Anti-Trump GOP strategist Stuart Stevens tried to imagine any recent president "bragging about his ratings" for speeches they gave after national tragedies, adding: "Decency is a place never visited by this damaged man."

Trump revels in "belittling Democratic governors, demonizing the media, trading in innuendo, and bulldozing over the guidance of experts," so "the publicity-obsessed president is unlikely to relinquish his grip on the evening sessions," The New York Times reports. But "White House allies and Republican lawmakers increasingly believe the briefings are hurting the president more than helping him," and one top political adviser said Trump was just creating ammunition for Joe Biden.

"He can't escape his instincts, his desire to put people down, like Mitt Romney, or to talk about his ratings," former Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) told the Times. "A leader in this sort of crisis should have a 75-to-80-percent approval rating." Still, Trump spoke only 20 minutes at Thursday's briefing, after averaging 53 minutes in recent weeks.