Trump considered launching a daily coronavirus radio show in March, as the epidemic was spreading

Two hours a day, he wanted it to be. I’m tempted to say, “Imagine any other president carving out multiple hours daily during a national emergency to riff for his fans, particularly when he’s already under fire for not doing enough to prepare the country to cope with the epidemic.”

But we don’t have to imagine. We’re in that situation right now with the daily coronavirus briefing. The radio idea, I assume, was his first pass at a substitute for rallies, a place where he could vent his grievances to an adoring audience at a moment when they couldn’t turn out to see him. But then he noticed the applause Cuomo was getting for his daily coronavirus briefings and the adulation being showered on Fauci for his media tour and realized that he could just repurpose the afternoon COVID-19 information updates for his own uses. So we’re getting the radio show. It’s just being carried on cable news in the late afternoon instead of on AM radio in the morning.

I’d give anything to have seen the looks on the faces of his aides when he ran this by them, as they were huddling over how to lock down the economy and limit the number of deaths to under 100,000 people. What better use of the president’s time when the feds are scrambling to supply hospitals with protective equipment than … a radio show? What better way to provide useful scientific information to a terrified public than to have our famously unempathetic president going off the cuff every day about hydroxychloroquine and how it’s time to cowboy up and get back to work? His reelection would be assured.

On a Saturday in early March, Donald J. Trump, clad in a baseball cap, strode into the Situation Room for a meeting with the coronavirus task force. He didn’t stop by the group’s daily meetings often, but he had an idea he was eager to share: He wanted to start a White House talk radio show.

At the time, the virus was rapidly spreading across the country, and Mr. Trump would soon announce a ban on European travel. A talk radio show, Mr. Trump excitedly explained, would allow him to quell Americans’ fears and answer their questions about the pandemic directly, according to three White House officials who heard the pitch. There would be no screening, he said, just an open line for people to call and engage one-on-one with the president.

But that Saturday, almost as suddenly as he proposed it, the president outlined one reason he would not be moving forward with it: He did not want to compete with Rush Limbaugh.

“There would be no screening”? Liberals would have organized dedicated phone banks to try to get through and berate him on the air.

And like 30 percent of the other callers would be calling in to ask about QAnon.

There are two ironies to him not wanting to compete with Rush. First, the fact that Rush and other talk-radio giants like Hannity carry his daily message forward so faithfully leaves you wondering why the president would feel the need to do a show of his own. If he wanted to get a message out about the coronavirus response, he could just pass it along to them behind the scenes. This is why I say the idea for a show had to be about him getting some quality time with people who worship him. If it’s about delivering facts on COVID-19, any number of other people — like Fauci and Birx at the daily briefing — can do that for him. If it’s about ego gratification, he has to do it himself.

The other irony is that Trump has been more responsible about the threat from coronavirus than Rush has, especially lately. Righties would actually be better off listening to the president argue that this is a big deal but we need to open up in two weeks than they would from Rush speculating about inflated death tolls and how “it’s just impossible anymore to actually find factual truth.” Normally the president and his talk-radio guard are stuck in a feedback loop, with them taking their cues from him and him taking his cues from them. “Now, as multiple voices vie for the president’s ear on the appropriate timeline for America’s path to normalcy, Mr. Limbaugh is amplifying Mr. Trump’s instinct for swiftness,” says the Times. “And for this president, as well as much of his party, Mr. Limbaugh’s affirmation remains a powerful motivator.” Right, but Fauci and Birx have succeeded — for the moment — in convincing Trump that the epidemic isn’t some kind of political hoax designed to hurt him. There’s an expert counterweight to populist media in this case that’s made the president a somewhat more reliable source than parts of populist media, notwithstanding his digressions at the daily briefing.

Maybe he *should* compete with Rush, then. Donald J. Trump would improve the quality of information being conveyed to grassroots Republicans on this issue.

Speaking of getting distracted from more pressing duties for the sake of ego gratification:

The Treasury Department has ordered President Trump’s name printed on stimulus checks the Internal Revenue Service is rushing to send to tens of millions of Americans, a process that could slow their delivery by a few days, senior IRS officials said…

The decision to have the paper checks bear Trump’s name, in the works for weeks, according to a Treasury official, was announced early Tuesday to the IRS’s information technology team. The team, working from home, is now racing to implement a programming change that two senior IRS officials said will probably lead to a delay in issuing the first batch of paper checks. They are scheduled to be sent Thursday to the Bureau of the Fiscal Service for printing and issuing.

Computer code must be changed to include the president’s name, and the system must be tested, these officials said. “Any last-minute request like this will create a downstream snarl that will result in a delay,” said Chad Hooper, a quality-control manager who serves as national president of the IRS’s Professional Managers Association.

Supposedly the president wanted to sign the checks but he’s not authorized to sign for Treasury disbursements. Treasury denies that there’ll be any delay caused by adding his name to the memo line on the checks because, well, imagine how bad it would look if they admitted it — a “populist” slowing down desperately needed aid for working-class people in the midst of a national crisis because he wanted to take credit for money appropriated by Congress.

I’ll give him this much, though: I don’t think any of this matters to November. I wrote somewhere yesterday that if he decides to play hardball with Democratic governors by withholding federal aid because they won’t reopen for business on his timetable, he’s risking a backlash that could drive his approval rating below 40 percent. But in hindsight that’s ridiculous. Nothing’s going to happen between now and Election Day, even in the midst of a global depression and an unprecedented pandemic, that’s going to steer his job approval more than a few points away from 44-45 percent. His essential Trumpiness is completely priced into his political stock, no matter how insane world events become. He could fire Fauci, he could cancel PPE shipments to New York, he could host an eight-hour daily radio show reminiscing about the models he used to nail when he was a developer in New York, and he’s still going to be at 44.5 percent or whatever when voting begins. He might as well do his job exactly how he sees fit. There won’t be any more accountability going forward than there has been up to now.

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