At his Saturday rally in Tulsa, President Trump, perhaps fooled by the empty seats into believing nobody was listening, made the astonishing confession that he had slowed down coronavirus testing because the higher number of recorded cases makes the problem look worse. “You know testing is a double-edged sword,” Trump explained. “Here’s the bad part … when you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people; you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down please.’”
Trump’s staff immediately went into damage control mode, insisting that he was merely joking. (This is the administration’s go-to defense when Trump makes an indefensible comment or admission; Trump even described his proposals to investigate injecting light or disinfectant into the body as an elaborate prank on the news media.)
But Trump has previously said he likes to keep the official coronavirus numbers low (“I like the numbers being where they are,” he said in March, explaining why he kept infected cruise ship passengers from coming ashore. “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship.”) As Dan Diamond reported that month, “My understanding is [Trump] did not push to do aggressive additional testing in recent weeks, and that’s partly because more testing might have led to more cases being discovered of coronavirus outbreak, and the president had made clear — the lower the numbers on coronavirus, the better for the president, the better for his potential reelection this fall.”
And in an interview today, Joe St. George gave Trump the opportunity to endorse the “just joking” party line. Trump did not take it:
St. George asked, “But did you ask to slow [testing] down?” Trump shrugged and replied, “If it did slow down, frankly, I think we’re way ahead of ourselves, if you want to know the truth. We’ve done too good a job, because every time we go up, with 25 million tests, you’re gonna find more people, so then they say, ‘Oh, we have more cases in the United States.’”
To recap, Trump was asked point-blank if he personally ordered a slowdown to testing. He shrugged and then explained why it would be a good thing to slow down testing. That is definitely not the same thing as saying it was just a joke.
Asked again by reporters Tuesday morning if he was just kidding when he said he told officials to slow down testing, Trump replied, “I don’t kid.” Which is true, he is almost completely humorless. His aides might now say he was also kidding when he said he doesn’t kid. But there doesn’t seem to be any serious way to deny the point any longer. Trump thinks coronavirus testing makes him look bad, and he ordered officials to slow it down for that reason.
This post has been updated.