Nearly four years into his wild and unlikely presidency, Donald Trump managed to shock the world again.
An interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News Sunday included a claim not to care what the military has to say about renaming its bases, and an argument about whether identifying an elephant was strong evidence of mental stability.
Part of the interview’s shock value lay in which network broadcast it: Fox News, which has only recently seen its cozy relationship with Trump start to erode.
But Wallace is known as a Fox News outlier, comfortable breaking ranks to ask tough questions of the president and members of his administration.
His Trump interview, which was taped at the White House on Friday, was a textbook example. At one point, Wallace referenced “mean tweets” that Trump posted about him, and asked if the president understood his responsibilities as a reporter.
“I’m not a big fan of Fox, I’ll be honest with you,” Trump said.
It was one of several surprising comments.
‘I’m not losing’
Wallace unveiled the results of a Fox News poll that showed Trump losing by eight points to the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden. Trump was also behind Biden on the response to the pandemic, on race relations and on the economy. He trails in other polls too.
Trump said: “I’m not losing, because those are fake polls.”
Not only did Trump deny the hard data, he also refused to say if he will accept the result of November’s presidential election if he comes out the loser.
“I have to see,” he said. “Look … I have to see. No, I’m not going to just say yes. I’m not going to say no, and I didn’t last time either.”
Anthony Scaramucci, Trump’s former director of communications, tweeted: “The Chris Wallace interview is Biden’s campaign ad.”
‘It’s an elephant’
The same Fox News poll showed that when asked if Biden and Trump had the mental soundness to serve as president, 47% of respondents said Biden did and 43% said Trump did.
More were certain Trump did not (51%) than Biden (39%).
Trump, 74, responded by asking that Biden, 77, immediately take a cognitive test. The president said last week that he “aced” an unspecified test. It is assumed he is referring to a cognitive assessment from 2018. Wallace, 72, said he had also taken the test, after seeing the president had.
“It’s not the hardest test,” he said. “They have a picture and it says ‘What’s that’ and it’s an elephant.”
Trump said Wallace was misrepresenting the test, a screening assessment widely used by doctors.
“I’ll bet you couldn’t. They get very hard, the last five questions,” he said.
‘I don’t care what the military says’
As global protests continue over racial inequality and police brutality, the Pentagon is considering renaming military bases that honor Confederate leaders. Trump, the commander-in-chief, said: “I don’t care what the military says. I’m supposed to make the decision.”
He also seemed to claim that the federal government could not find other names.
“We’re going to name it after the Rev Al Sharpton?” Trump asked, referring to the civil rights leader. “What are you going to name it?”
‘I’ll be right eventually’
The interview was especially combative when it touched on Covid-19, which has infected 3.7 million and killed more than 140,000 people in the US.
Wallace repeatedly pressed Trump about the death toll, which the president attempted to deflect by pointing to mortality rates in other countries and saying the US had “one of the lowest in the world”.
“That’s not true, sir,” Wallace said, correctly.
The argument continued, and Trump asked his press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, to “please bring me the mortality rate”.
“You have the numbers, please?” Trump asked. “Because I hear we have the best mortality rate. Number, number one low mortality rate.”
Waving a paper, Trump said: “I hope you show this on air, because it shows what fake news is about.”
“I don’t think I’m fake news,” Wallace said.
Wallace then showed a montage of Trump’s comments minimizing Covid-19, by saying it will “disappear” at some point.
“I’ll be right eventually,” Trump said. “It is going to disappear. I’ll say it again, it’s going to disappear and I’ll be right.”
Wallace asked if Trump’s past comments about coronavirus disappearing, which have not been borne out, discredited him.
“I don’t think so, you know why? Because I’ve been right probably more than anybody else.”
Trump went on to say masks can cause problems (they do not) and to say an increase in testing is why the US has such a high number of cases. It is not.
Trump also called White House expert Dr Anthony Fauci “an alarmist” and when asked about a daily death toll around 1,000, said: “It is what it is.”
A surprise for Congress
Trump also made the astounding claim that in two weeks’ time, he will sign a new healthcare plan.
On the campaign trail in 2016, he promised to overturn the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, which provides health insurance to those who cannot otherwise afford it. An effort to do so in Congress failed. Late last month – during a pandemic – the White House wrote a brief in support of a lawsuit seeking to bring the ACA down.
Wallace pointed out that in three years, Trump has not unveiled his promised replacement.
Trump responded: “We’re signing a healthcare plan within two weeks, a full and complete healthcare plan that the supreme court decision on DACA [an immigration decision which went against the administration] gave me the right to do.
“So we’re going to solve – we’re going to sign an immigration plan, a healthcare plan, and various other plans. And nobody will have done what I’m doing in the next four weeks.”