the national interest

The 23 Most Surreal Moments From Trump’s Chris Wallace Interview, Ranked

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

For reasons that are difficult for anybody, even Chris Wallace, to understand, President Trump sat for a lengthy interview with Chris Wallace, a Fox News host who gives tough interviews. (Wallace expressed surprise that Trump would submit to the interview after having berated him on Twitter.) The interview, which aired Sunday, opened a fire hose of crazy that boggles comprehension even after accounting for the demolished standards of the Trump era and processing it several times.

In a normal presidency, any one of these answers would have created a problem ranging from days-long scandal to a presidency-defining epigraph like “I am not a crook.” Trump’s protection, as it were, is that none of these comments will have such an effect because there are too many of them. Here is a ranking of the 23 most surreal moments of this televised fever dream. The completely subjective scale is based on a combination of how novel, crazy, and politically self-destructive every claim is.

23. Trump’s legacy is that he was treated unfairly:

WALLACE: Whether it’s in 2021 or 2025, how will you regard your years as president of the United States?

TRUMP: I think I was very unfairly treated. From before I even won I was under investigation by a bunch of thieves, crooks. It was an illegal investigation.

The investigation was legal. Trump’s decision to emphasize his own victimization as the central legacy of his presidency is an interesting choice.

22. Fox News is fake polls:

WALLACE: Mr. President, you’ll be happy to know that Fox News has a new poll out today and you’re going to be the very first person to hear about it. In the national horse race, Joe Biden leads you by 8 points, 49 percent to 41. That’s 3, 4 points slimmer than it was a month ago. And on the issues, people trust Biden more to handle the coronavirus by 17 points, on race relations by 21 points, and even on the economy they trust Biden more by 1 point. I understand you still have more than a hundred days to this election, but at this point you’re losing.

TRUMP: First of all, I’m not losing, because those are fake polls.

Trump has a long history of expressing his anger that Fox News employs legitimate, mainstream (i.e., “fake”) pollsters.

21. Both World Wars were “beautiful”:

TRUMP: So there’s a whole thing here. We won two World Wars, two World Wars, beautiful World Wars that were vicious and horrible, and we won them out of Fort Bragg, we won out of all of these forts that now they want to throw those names away.

Trump seemed to realize how terrible it sounded to call the two wars that resulted in tens of millions of deaths “beautiful,” and immediately added the contradictory descriptions “vicious and horrible,” which are more helpful in explaining his own decision to avoid military service.

20. Republicans always protect people with preexisting conditions:

TRUMP: Preexisting conditions will always be taken care of by me and Republicans, 100 percent.

In fact, the Republican health-care plan would strip away protections for patients with preexisting conditions. Trump is currently supporting a legal challenge to those protections in court.

19. After being told whites are killed, you have to say whites are killed:

WALLACE: Nationwide, blacks are twice as likely, fewer in absolute numbers, but in terms of per capita, blacks are twice as likely to be shot and killed by police as whites are. In Minneapolis, over the last five years, police used force against blacks at a rate seven times that against whites. Can you understand why blacks would be angry at that?

TRUMP: Of course I do. Of course I do. Many whites are killed also. You have to say that.

Wallace anticipates Trump’s objection by stipulating that whites are killed by police in aggregate numbers before saying that more Black people are killed as a share of the population. Trump still responds that you have to say white people are being killed.

18. Joe Biden’s “only shot” to win is that people hate Trump:

TRUMP: The enthusiasm for Biden is nonexistent. Everyone knows he’s shot.

WALLACE: But the enthusiasm against you is high.

TRUMP: Well that’s okay. That’s his only shot.

It is broadly true that Biden’s only chance to win is that Trump is widely seen as a completely failed president. However, this fact gives Biden a very good chance to win, in the same way that Tiger Woods’s “only shot” to beat me in golf would be that I have never played golf in my life and would presumably be terrible.

17. Too many people have been tested for coronavirus:

TRUMP: Many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day. They have the sniffles and we put it down as a test. Many of them — don’t forget, I guess it’s like 99.7 percent, people are going to get better and in many cases they’re going to get better very quickly.

We go out and we look and then on the news — look if you go back to the news, all of your — even your wonderful competitors, you’ll see cases are up. Cases are up — many of those cases shouldn’t even be cases. Cases are up because we have the best testing in the world and we have the most testing.

Testing in the United States is not “the best.” It is slower and more difficult to obtain than in most wealthy countries. The United States is doing more testing than most peer countries because the United States has far more infections. Testing asymptomatic people is not a bad thing, as Trump suggests, but a crucial step to track and contain the virus, because asymptomatic cases can transmit the virus to other people.

16. Mail-in voting might rig the election:

TRUMP: You don’t know until you see. It depends. I think mail-in voting is going to rig the election. I really do.

This was in response to Wallace asking if he would accept the results of the election. In fact, several states employ universal mail-in balloting without wide-scale fraud. Trump is signaling once again his intention to use mail-in voting as a pretext to challenge a defeat.

15. Coronavirus tests create trouble

TRUMP: It’s possible that they don’t test, that’s what’s possible. We find cases and many of those cases heal automatically. We’re finding — in a way, we’re creating trouble. Certainly, we are creating trouble for the fake news to come along and say, “Oh, we have more cases.”

Trump has resisted coronavirus testing, and his administration is currently opposing new funds to make testing more available, because he believes that detecting cases is bad. This belief is deeply at odds with the conclusion of public-health experts, and the practices that have contained the virus successfully abroad.

14. The wall is helping contain the coronavirus:

TRUMP: But you take a look, why don’t they talk about Mexico? Which is not helping us. And all I can say is thank God I built most of the wall, because if I didn’t have the wall up we would have a much bigger problem with Mexico.

This claim combines the assumption that Trump’s additions to existing border fencing are making a serious difference in illegal immigration with the assumption that illegal immigration from Mexico, which has a lower rate of coronavirus infection, is an important source of public-health risk.

13. The United States has one of the lowest mortality rates in the world from the coronavirus:

TRUMP: But when you talk about mortality rates, I think it’s the opposite. I think we have one of the lowest mortality rates in the world.

WALLACE: That’s not true, sir. We, we, we have a — we had 900 deaths on a single day …

TRUMP: We will take a look …

WALLACE: … just this week …

TRUMP: Ready?

WALLACE: You, you can check it out.

Wallace noted in a voice-over that the White House’s own chart contradicts this claim:

WALLACE: We went with numbers from Johns Hopkins University which charted the mortality rate for 20 countries hit by the virus. The U.S. ranked 7th, better than the United Kingdom but worse than Brazil and Russia. The White House went with this chart from the European CDC which shows Italy and Spain doing worse. But countries like Brazil and South Korea doing better. Other countries doing better like Russia aren’t included in the White House chart.

12. Trump says he is “not offended” by the Black Lives Matter slogan:

TRUMP: Well, I’m not offended either by Black Lives Matter.

This was his response to why he said he was not offended by the Confederate flag. Trump called Black Lives Matter’s slogan a “symbol of hate” earlier this month.

11. “We have as many as them”:

WALLACE: But are they teaching people to hate America?

TRUMP: Oh, I think so yeah, I think so. Look at the professors. Look at what’s going on in the colleges. If a conservative goes on a college — and look, we have as many as them. Excuse me, I think to the best of my knowledge, we’re sitting at the White House and the Oval Office is right behind me. We have as many as them.

WALLACE: Who’s them?

TRUMP: The liberal radical left, and I’m not talking all — I think liberal, I could tell you I like a lot of liberal people. I like a lot of liberal governors and senators, but, but Chris, we have a radical left destructive ideology and it’s being taught in our schools.

Wallace obviously does not understand what Trump means by “we have as many as them.” Even after Wallace’s request for clarification, it is impossible to understand what Trump means — who is “we,” who is “them,” and what is the thing he thinks “we” has” in equal or greater amounts?

10. American testing is the envy of the world:

TRUMP: No country has ever done what we’ve done in terms of testing. We are the envy of the world. They call and they say the most incredible job anybody’s done is our job on testing, because we’re going to very shortly be up to 50 million tests.

Coronavirus tests in many states are so backlogged they take five-to-seven days to return results. Most advanced countries have testing systems that can deliver rapid results. The notion that foreign leaders have called Trump to praise American testing is beyond implausible.

9. Trump is not sure what the year 1619 represents:

TRUMP: Now they want to make it the 1619 project. Where did that come from? What does it represent? I don’t even know, so.

WALLACE: It’s slavery.

TRUMP: That’s what they’re saying, but they don’t even know. They just want to make a change.

They do know. It’s slavery.

8. Nobody in Trump’s administration is trying to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci:

WALLACE: Well — let me just, let me just ask the question, sir. Why on earth would your administration be involved in a campaign at this point to discredit Dr. Fauci, who is the nation’s top infectious disease expert.

TRUMP: Because we’re not. If one man from my administration doesn’t like him because he made a few mistakes — look, Dr. Fauci said, “Don’t wear a mask.” Dr. Fauci told me not to ban China, it would be a big mistake. I did it over and above his recommendation. Dr. Fauci then said, “You saved tens of thousands of lives” — more than that. He said, “You saved tens of thousands of lives.”

Reporters at several news organizations received an opposition-research-style document on Fauci from the Trump administration. Trump himself immediately followed his denial that he is trying to discredit Fauci by repeating several attacks on Fauci’s credibility.

7. Masks cause problems:

TRUMP: No, I want people to have a certain freedom, and I don’t believe in that. No, and I don’t agree with the statement that if everybody wear a mask everything disappears. Hey, Dr. Fauci said don’t wear a mask. Our Surgeon General — terrific guy — said don’t wear a mask. Everybody who is saying don’t wear a mask — all of sudden everybody’s got to wear a mask, and as you know masks cause problems, too. With that being said, I’m a believer in masks. I think masks are good.

Wearing masks is an incredibly cost-effective tool to allow more economic activity at a lower risk of spreading the virus. Masks do not cause any serious problems.

6. Biden wants to defund police; the charter he signed with Bernie Sanders says so:

TRUMP: Biden wants to defund the police.

WALLACE: No he, sir, he does not.

TRUMP: Look. He signed a charter with Bernie Sanders; I will get that one just like I was right on the mortality rate. Did you read the charter that he agreed to with …

WALLACE: It says nothing about defunding the police.

TRUMP: Oh really? It says abolish, it says — let’s go. Get me the charter, please.

TRUMP: Chris, you’ve got to start studying for these.

WALLACE: He says defund the police?

TRUMP: He says defund the police. They talk about abolishing the police …

TRUMP: No. I, I — we’ll find it.


TRUMP: This thing is many pages long.

Long story short: The charter does not say Biden wants to defund the police.

5. Trump’s cognitive impairment test was “very hard”:

WALLACE: Incidentally, I took the test too when I heard that you passed it.

TRUMP: Yeah, how did you do?

WALLACE: It’s not — well it’s not that hard a test. They have a picture and it says “what’s that” and it’s an elephant.

TRUMP: No no no …

TRUMP: You see, that’s all misrepresentation.

WALLACE: Well, that’s what it was on the web.

TRUMP: It’s all misrepresentation. Because, yes, the first few questions are easy, but I’ll bet you couldn’t even answer the last five questions. I’ll bet you couldn’t, they get very hard, the last five questions.

WALLACE: Well, one of them was count back from 100 by seven.

TRUMP: Let me tell you …

WALLACE: Ninety-three.

TRUMP: … you couldn’t answer — you couldn’t answer many of the questions.

Trump is correct that the test gets more difficult after the respondent is asked to identify a picture of an elephant. He is not correct that the test is actually difficult, or that passing it (assuming he has done so, which he has asserted but remains unproven) would be a measure of anything beyond not suffering serious cognitive impairment. Trump is insisting Wallace could not pass a cognitive impairment test even after Wallace tells him he took the test.

4. Renaming military forts means honoring Al Sharpton:

TRUMP: We’re going to name it after the Reverend Al Sharpton? What are you going to name it, Chris, tell me what you’re going to name it?

The military has in fact proposed renaming forts after military heroes who fought for the United States rather than against it. None of them has proposed renaming a fort after Al Sharpton.

3. Religion will be gone under a Biden administration:

TRUMP: If Joe Biden got in, first of all, he won’t call the shots. The people — the radical left people that’s around him will call. Religion will be gone, okay?

After Wallace asks how Biden will do that, Trump elaborates:

TRUMP: Well, look at what they’re doing to the churches. They won’t let the churches even open if they want to stand in a field six feet apart.

Trump is describing social-distancing guidelines that are made by governors, not the president. He is describing the status quo, not a new horror that would be created by a Biden administration. He is ignoring the fact that these guidelines apply neutrally to all gatherings, rather than singling out religion, that they are temporary measures that will end when the coronavirus is contained, and that the First Amendment to the Constitution protects the free exercise of religion.

2. Trump will unveil a new comprehensive health-care plan in two weeks, without needing any congressional input:

WALLACE: But you’ve been in office three and a half years, you don’t have a plan.

TRUMP: Well, we haven’t had. Excuse me. You heard me yesterday. We’re signing a health-care plan within two weeks, a full and complete health-care plan that the Supreme Court decision on DACA gave me the right to do.

This bizarre statement blends together three implausible claims. First, Trump is referring to a radical conservative legal analysis that claims, almost certainly incorrectly, that a recent Supreme Court ruling gives him leeway to refuse to enforce existing laws. Second, he appears to be transposing the logic to health care, promising somehow that his newfound power to ignore laws will allow him to create a new health-care law, as if nonenforcement of the law and the creation of a new law are the same thing. And third, he promises to “sign” this “new law” within two weeks. This is a long-standing pattern of Trump promising to do things that never happen in “two weeks.”

1. Democrats are closing schools and preventing rallies in order to hurt him politically:

TRUMP: The Democrats are purposely keeping their schools closed, keeping their states closed. I called Michigan, I want to have a big rally in Michigan. Do you know we’re not allowed to have a rally in Michigan? Do you know we’re not allowed to have a rally in Minnesota? Do you know we’re not allowed to have a rally in Nevada? We’re not allowed to have rallies.

WALLACE: Well, some people would say it’s a health …

TRUMP: In these Democrat-run states …

WALLACE: But, wait a minute, some people would that it’s a health risk, sir.

TRUMP: Some people would say, fine.

WALLACE: I mean we had some issues after Tulsa.

TRUMP: But I would guarantee if everything was gone 100 percent, they still wouldn’t allow it. They’re not allowing me to do it. So they’re not — they’re not allowing me to have rallies.

Trump returned to this charge later in the interview:

Wallace: With states now rolling back some of the reopening and …

TRUMP: On purpose.

WALLACE: Well, there are a lot of Republican …

TRUMP: On purpose.

WALLACE: Well, there are a lot of Republican states, like Texas …

TRUMP: There is no reason …

WALLACE: And here’s …

TRUMP: They’ll be open very soon.

WALLACE: Let me just ask my question.

TRUMP: There’s no reason for California to be doing what they’re doing.

WALLACE: All right.

TRUMP: Except for November 3rd.

Later on, he revived the claim yet again:

TRUMP: I think the economy is expanding and growing beautifully. Now, the Democrats want to keep it closed as long as possible because they think that’s good for elections.

The president of the United States insists that public-health measures, which follow measures adopted across the world, are in fact a plot to damage his political standing by sabotaging the economy. He believes that this fantastical scheme has even gained the support of numerous Republican officials and scientific experts within his own administration. If you want to understand why the president has deliberately ignored his own experts and plunged the country into a public-health crisis, it is because he deeply and sincerely subscribes to a paranoid conspiracy theory.

The 23 Most Surreal Moments From Trump’s Interview, Ranked