President Donald Trump’s interview with Jonathon Swan of Axios might be a sign of a paradigm shift.
Like Trump’s one-on-one interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace a few weeks ago, Swan’s interview, which aired on HBO Monday evening, did something that few of this president’s media appearances do: It held Trump to account.
Over the course of the 37-minute interview, Swan asked Trump follow-up questions, fact-checked him in real-time, and demanded Trump to name the sources of his hyperbolic claims. Trump may have found this unusual. After all, his regular appearances on Fox News are typically softball conversations, where friendly reporters allow him to air grievances, unrestrained. Additionally, his freewheeling campaign rallies, a star of the 2016 election, allowed Trump to speak at-length, uninterrupted and unchallenged.
But as both the Wallace and the Swan interviews have shown, the norm may be changing. With rallies indefinitely postponed amid the pandemic, Trump’s access to television time is now guarded by journalists. Whether at a White House briefing, where he takes questions from reporters or in a one-on-one interview, Trump can no longer speak for hours without the objections of an interlocutor. And as Wallace and Swan have both proven, journalists may be letting go of the tradition to “let Trump be Trump.” Instead, they have demanded the facts and forced the President to stay on topic when he tries to evade answering certain questions.
Here are a few highlights from the Axios interview.
On COVID-19 resulting in 150,000 deaths in the US
Trump: Right now, I think it’s under control.
Swan: How? 1,000 Americans are dying a day.
Trump: They are dying. That’s true. It is what it is. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t doing everything we can. It’s under control as much as you can control it. This is a horrible plague that beset us.
Swan: You really think this is as much as we can control — 1,000 deaths a day?
Trump: First of all, we have done a great job. We’ve gotten the governors everything they needed. They didn’t do their job. Many of them didn’t and some of them did. … But the governors do it. We gave them massive amounts of material.
On the severity of the pandemic, and recent surges across the US
Swan: Even some of your own aides wonder whether you will stick to that message until Election Day. Whether in a week or two, you won’t say, ‘Right, we got to reopen again. We can’t do this stuff anymore.’ That you’ll get bored of talking about the virus and go back to that sort of cheerleading.
Trump: No, I never get bored. I never get bored of talking about this. It’s too big of a thing.
Swan: So will you stick to that message?
Trump: It should’ve been stopped by China. It should’ve been stopped by China, and it wasn’t.
Swan: But now it’s here and you’re the president.
Trump: I think I’m very consistent. No, this is a very serious thing. We have 140,000 people at this moment. This is a very, very serious situation, and what you have to do is handle it the best it can be handled. And again, I’m working with the governors.
On COVID testing delays
Trump: There are those that say you can test too much. You do know that.
Swan: Who says that?
Trump: Just read the manuals. Read the books. Read the books.
Swan: Manuals? What manuals? What books?
Trump: Let me explain. What testing does is it shows cases, it shows where there may be cases. Other countries test, you know when they test? They test when somebody’s sick. That’s when they test. And I’m not saying they’re right or wrong. Nobody’s done it like we’ve done it. We’ve gotten absolutely no credit for it but we’ve come up with so many different tests. The only thing that we have now is some people have to wait longer than we’d like them to.
Swan: It’s a big problem. … When, do you think, you’ll have it for everyone? What day?
Trump: I think you’ll have that relatively soon.
Swan: What does that mean?
Trump: I would much rather get back to you because I don’t want to have you write ‘in one month,’ I didn’t make it, I missed it by a day and it’s a headline.
Swan: OK. That’s fine.
On the COVID death toll in the US being higher than other countries
Swan: You’re doing death as a proportion of cases. I’m talking about death as a proportion of population. That’s where the US is really bad. Much worse than South Korea, Germany, et cetera.
Trump: You can’t do that.
Swan: Why can’t I do that?
Trump: You have to go by the cases.
Swan: … Well look at South Korea, for example: 51 million population. 300 deaths. It’s crazy.
Trump: You don’t know that. You don’t know that.
Swan: You think they’re faking their statistics? South Korea? An advanced country?
Trump: I won’t get into that because I have a very good relationship with the country. But you don’t know that.