Following the White House’s daily coronavirus response briefing on Tuesday in which President Donald Trump finally warned of a “very, very painful” period ahead in the coronavirus pandemic — with deaths ranging from 100,000 to 240,000 people in the U.S. — many voices in mainstream media seemed ready to credit him with having attained a semblance of genuine presidential leadership.
(Of course, this blunt admission came after Trump had previously insisted for months that the outbreak was “totally under control.”)
But really, these people should all know better.
For example: Peter Baker, chief White House correspondent for The New York Times, tweeted about Trump’s abrupt transformation:
Michael D. Shear, another Times White House correspondent — and co-author of the highly critical book Border Wars: Inside Trump’s Assault on Immigration — also tweeted about Trump’s seemingly remarkable shift.
The problem here is that Baker and Shear have both written about these supposed changes in Trump’s public tone before, or have speculated that such a thing was just around the corner.
The May 2017 article “Trump Softens Tone on Islam but Calls for Purge of ‘Foot Soldiers of Evil,’” co-bylined by Baker and Shear, described “the president’s measured tone” as “a far cry from his incendiary language on the campaign trail last year”:
Throughout his visit, a less volatile president emerged, disciplined and relentlessly on message in a way he is often not at home. He did not brag about his electoral victory and avoided tangents. With few exceptions, he stuck carefully to his teleprompter. His mood has been sober and careful.
In a November 2018 article “A Partisan War Awaits Trump. That Just Might Suit Him,” Baker wrote:
After waging a divisive and racially charged campaign, Mr. Trump signaled in the days leading up to Tuesday’s vote that he may soften his tone going forward, although past nods toward bipartisanship have never lasted long. With his party no longer holding all the levers of power in Washington, he cannot bypass the opposition if he hopes to transform his priorities into law.
And in an August 2019 article titled “At the End of a Chaotic G7 Meeting, Trump Changes His Tone on China and Iran. Again,” both Baker and Shear wrote:
Taken together, Mr. Trump’s bursts of diplomacy on China and Iran punctuated a trip that began with what Mr. Macron later called “nervousness” that he would sow discord, and ended with relief that the Group of 7 had found some common ground instead.
In each of these cases, expectations that Trump had turned a corner or struck a new tone were quickly dashed as he returned to his favorite pastimes: echoing right-wing grievances and live-tweeting Fox News.
But for some reporters who have been critical of Trump, there is a sense that they’ll just take their miracles wherever they can:
Just don’t get your hopes up too high, because there’s always the next briefing.