SANDRA SMITH (CO-ANCHOR): Problem is, this is on tape. It's the president in March, talking to a journalist about the severity of the threat and his intentions to downplay the threat of this virus. And Dan, it leaves people wondering if he had been outright with this information to the American public, could it have helped stop the spread of this virus earlier on?
DAN HENNINGER (DEPUTY EDITOR, WALL STREET JOURNAL EDITORIAL PAGE): Well, I think the issue there is what Trump was saying, and what the administration was doing. Anthony Fauci is now on record as saying that he doesn't think the president distorted the government's handling of the virus. But that detail is being washed away in this tape of the president talking to Bob Woodward.
The Trump supporters I was talking to yesterday are less upset about the substance of what he said than the fact that he talked to Bob Woodward 18 times. How was that going to end well? It plays right into what has clearly become the primary Biden re-election (sic) strategy, which is to attack Donald Trump's character.
I mean, less than a week ago, Sandra, we were all talking about the president's alleged disparagement of the military. I saw — watched Joe Biden respond to that, he said “if true” and then launched into a five-minute ad hominem attack on the president as if it were all true. And now yesterday, reading off a teleprompter, Joe Biden is again ripping into the president's character. One way or another, it is not a plus for the president's re-election chances to have the argument focusing on the president's personality, insofar as that's the Democratic strategy. I think the campaign — the Trump campaign has to find a way to move this subject off of the president himself, and onto the issue of the president's policies vis-à-vis Joe Biden's and the Democratic Party's policies.
SMITH: Dan, it's pretty tough to avoid the timeline of events of the president on that tape talking about the deadliness of this virus, the severity of this virus — more so than the flu. And then it's easy to pull up a string of events that followed — public statements from the president, saying it's going to be fine, “This is like a flu; it'll go away; I'm not concerned at all.”
HENNINGER: Well, you know, Sandra, if we're going to go down this path, I suppose we're eventually — hopefully, the press, if it has these reporting capabilities, will get into the actual substance of what the administration was doing back then, like governments all over the world as they were being hit by this virus.
Did, in fact, the Trump administration absolutely do nothing through that period? Was there no preparations being made under the president's orders? That would be damning, but I suspect the truth is that the administration was trying to figure out where the virus was going, how they were going to respond, what was needed. And those are the details that I think really are the proof in the pudding here. The administration, the government did respond, the United States did get its hands around the coronavirus. We had 50 state governors trying to do the same thing.
And at the end of the day, Sandra, I'm not so sure that the American people — given the complexities of the virus — are going to hold that one statement against the president. Again, it's not a plus, it's not gaining him votes. But whether it ultimately is the straw that breaks Donald Trump's back in this re-election bid, I really kind of doubt that.