President Donald Trump told longtime journalist Bob Woodward that he consciously "wanted to always play down" the threat posed by the deadly coronavirus because he doesn't "want to create a panic", even as more than 190,000 Americans have died from the virus. This is just one of the many revelations the President has made in a series of interviews with the Watergate journalist that comes out in the form of a book 'Rage' which is only likely to make things difficult for Trump with just eight weeks left for the election.
Trump's aides have been spending months fretting about the him opening up to Woodward, fearing the consequences all the way through Wednesday's bombshell revelations. The revelations in 'Rage' have now sent the White House scrambling, with aides blaming one another for the predictable fallout from injecting even more chaos into an already challenging reelection race.
Trump Says it All
Woodward conducted 18 interviews between December 5, 2019 and July 21, 2020 with Trump. He recorded the audio of all those interviews with Trump's permission. Some of the interviews give a sneak peek into Trump's Oval Office, while one is about his preference for long ties. But then there are also so many things that Trump and his White House aides may not like once the book comes out.
The big question is why was Trump so eager to give interviews to Woodward this time? For a President known for being unscripted in his comments to the public, Trump's conversations with Woodward offer an intimate snapshot of his unfiltered thought process and impulsive behavior. And even if he did why would the famously denial-prone Trump allow Woodward to tape the conversations so that there can be no doubt about their authenticity?
The reasons are simple. Trump loves being covered by the media (obviously, always in a positive way) and is perhaps one of the rare American presidents to closely follow how he is covered. He is an avid consumer of cable TV news, which has often been the lens through which he views the world and also the way that he analyzes. This self obsession with perception led him to cement his legacy in the office through a set of interviews. But he seems to have gone wrong given that he didn't listen to his aides in the White House this time around.
What Went Wrong
Woodward, who made his name as one of the two reporters who broke the criminal enterprise overseen by President Richard Nixon known as Watergate, has chronicled the life and times of several presidents over the years. He wrote four books about George W. Bush's eight years in the White House and two about Barack Obama. In 2018, Woodward released 'Fear', his first book on Trump. However, aides at the White House prevented Trump from an interview for his book because they didn't want to give the author more ammunition than he already had.
Every president who has cooperated with Woodward has been driven by the appeal of dealing with someone with the sort of influence they believe can shape how they are not just perceived in the moment but also remembered for ever. And Trump simply played into it this time around as he has always wanted to be remembered for ever, be it for his weird desire of buying Greenland or getting his face engraved on Mount Rushmore.
Needless to say, Trump's aides could not shield him this time from opening up in front of Woodward. They knew the revelations in the book could invite trouble ahead of the election but couldn't gauge the extent of it.
As the White House and Trump campaign were planning to tell a different story this fall about their handling of coronavirus, the book's release is renewing attention on the president's mismanagement in handling the crisis in the initial stages that continues to disrupt millions of lives. The interviews revealed that Trump was not candid with the public about the dangers of Covid-19. "I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic," Trump said in one audio clip released on Wednesday.
This, however, is just one of the many revelations. Two years ago, 'Fear' had already created enough problems for Trump. The book spoke about how the Trump administration suffered a "nervous breakdown" with anecdotes from current and former aides inside and outside the administration. But when Trump came to know about the book, the damage had already been done. "It's really too bad, because nobody told me about it, and I would have loved to have spoken to you," he said in audio released by The Washington Post at the time.
This time around, he made clear to his aides that he would give interviews to Woodward and convinced then that he could charm a veteran journalist into seeing his point of view but seems to have done more damage to himself.