The President’s mendacious nightly press briefings on the coronavirus will go down in history for their monumental flimflammery.
During the Vietnam War, the United States had the Five O’Clock Follies, nightly briefings at which American military leaders claimed, citing a variety of bogus statistics, half-truths, and misleading reports from the front, to be winning a war that they were, in fact, losing. Richard Pyle, the Associated Press’s Saigon bureau chief, called the press conferences “the longest-playing tragicomedy in Southeast Asia’s theater of the absurd,” which, minus the “Southeast Asia” part, is not a bad description of the scene currently playing out each evening in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, in the White House. We now have the Trump Follies, the nightly briefings at which President Trump has lied and bragged, lamented and equivocated, about the global pandemic that poses an existential threat to his Presidency. Just as the Vietnam briefings became a standard by which the erosion of government credibility could be measured then, historians of the future will consult the record of Trump’s mendacious, misleading press conferences as an example of a tragic failure of leadership at such a critical moment. There will be much material for them; the transcripts from just the first three days of this week runs to more than forty thousand words.
Since Trump began making the press conferences a daily ritual a couple of weeks ago—an eternity in the pandemic era—his more memorable lines are already featuring in political attacks against him. “I don’t take responsibility at all,” Trump insisted, two weeks ago. When asked to assess his own performance, he said, “I’d rate it a ten.” This Wednesday, with members of his coronavirus task force joining him onstage, he added, “We’ve done one hell of a job. Nobody has done the job that we’ve done. And it’s lucky that you have this group here right now for this problem or you wouldn’t even have a country left.”
The disconnect between Trumpian reality and actual reality has never been on starker display than in the past few days, as the true face of the horror we are facing in the United States has shown itself, in New York City, with overwhelmed morgues and emergency rooms, a governor pleading for ventilators and face masks from the federal government, and heartbreaking first-person accounts reminiscent of the open letters sent from Italy a few weeks back, which warned Americans: this is what is coming for you—don’t make our mistakes. On Tuesday, the World Health Organization said that the United States was emerging as the “epicenter” of the global pandemic, which makes the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room the emerging epicenter of the failure to respond to it.
A couple of weeks ago, it seemed as if maybe that would not be the case. Although the Trump Administration had faltered and delayed and denied through the initial stages of the virus, when it raged outside our borders, it looked like it might finally get its act together and take this public-health menace seriously, now that it was hitting in force inside the U.S. Trump declared a “national emergency,” stepped up testing, and, on March 16th, agreed to his crisis committee’s plan for a fifteen-day countrywide slowdown, in order to “flatten the curve” of the disease’s trajectory. Barely a week into the fifteen days, however, Trump began signalling an abrupt change of course—at just the moment when the disease was accelerating its deadly progress through a wealthy nation that turned out to be surprisingly ill-prepared for it.
Throughout this long, strange March, Trump has often framed the fight against the pandemic in martial terms: a “battle” to be won, a victory to be achieved, a shared sacrifice against “this invisible enemy” which would go on “until we have defeated the virus.” But the Commander-in-Chief did something extraordinary this week: he rebelled against his own clichés, essentially declaring that he no longer wanted to be at war with the virus after all.
On Sunday, he prefigured this pivot, apparently after watching the Fox News host Steve Hilton complain about the treatment—a shut-down country and a cratered economy—being worse than the disease. “WE CANNOT LET THE CURE BE WORSE THAN THE PROBLEM ITSELF,” Trump tweeted, shortly before midnight. By the Monday-night edition of the Follies, which are usually scheduled for 5 p.m. but often not started until later, Trump was repeating this line over and over again. “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” he said. “We’re not going to let the cure be worse than the problem.” Later, he added, “We can’t have the cure be worse than the problem,” and also, “We can’t let that happen. . . . We can’t let this continue to go on.” America, he said, would be “open for business” soon.
On Tuesday, which marked a month since a now-infamous tweet in which the President claimed that “the Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” Trump was even more specific. He announced that afternoon, on a Fox News special from the White House lawn, that he wanted to get the country reopened and the church pews “packed” by Easter, on April 12th, at just the time when New York and other states were predicted to face the maximum pressure on their overstretched medical facilities. A few hours later, at the nightly press briefing, he was asked about this seemingly arbitrary timetable by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins.
“Who suggested Easter?” Collins asked. “Who suggested that day?” Trump replied, “I just thought it was a beautiful time. It would be a beautiful time, a beautiful timeline. It’s a great day.” Collins followed up: “So that wasn’t based on any of the data?” “I just think it would be a beautiful timeline,” Trump responded.
This was painfully revealing: the President, under questioning by an independent reporter, was admitting that he wanted to do something with no basis in science. In fact, within minutes, some of the nation’s leading experts on pandemics panned the suggestion as dangerous and ill conceived. By Wednesday, Trump was still talking about an Easter deadline, but only promising a new “recommendation” at that time. “I’m not going to do anything rash or hastily,” he said, which is as close to a reassuring statement from the President as he will ever offer.
On Thursday, Trump appeared before the cameras just before 5:30 p.m., minutes after the Times reported that the United States now had more than eighty-one thousand recorded cases of the coronavirus, surpassing China as the world’s No. 1 country in terms of confirmed infections. When asked about the statistic, Trump acted as though this, too, was some sort of an achievement of his to be praised, saying that the high number was “a tribute to our testing.” Despite the day’s grim news, with his Administration reporting a record-high week of unemployment claims, Trump continued his upbeat tone. The world “is going to end up better than ever,” he said, before reading out all the names of the members of the G-20 world leaders with whom he had spoken that morning, listing the provisions of the two-trillion-dollar emergency-aid package that Congress is finalizing, and even reciting the number of gloves that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent to individual states. Eventually, he got around to his main point, which is that “we’ve gotta go back to work.” Earlier on Thursday, his Administration had sent a letter to governors, saying it would soon issue new guidelines rating U.S. counties by their varied levels of risk for the disease and suggesting that those with lower risk could resume business more quickly. Trump offered no specifics, but touted it as a needed step. “I think it’s going to happen pretty quickly,” he said. He never mentioned the word “Easter.”
After all that, it was hard not to think of Trump’s whole “beautiful timeline” as yet another monumental act of Presidential flimflammery, a distracting week of misdirection to keep us all occupied while those of us who are still working do so from home. Trump’s open-by-Easter pledge may well be as quickly forgotten as his other lies during the coronavirus crisis thus far, such as when he said that the cases would go down to near zero in a few days, that the disease would simply disappear, and that it would never make it to our shores in significant numbers.
These daily Presidential briefings have understandably become controversial among the national media, which is wary of being played by an attention-seeking President. Neither the Times nor the Washington Post are sending reporters to them, citing the health risk. (A journalist who had attended several of the sessions has reportedly contracted the virus; even still, the President refuses to follow the social-distancing dictates that his government is urging others to practice.) Sources at various television networks have said that the networks were considering no longer airing them, although they have so far continued to do so. The Post columnist Margaret Sullivan has argued that the briefings should not be broadcast live anymore, citing the fact that the President was using them as a platform for “self-aggrandizement,” “media-bashing,” and “exaggeration and outright lies.”
Trump will keep doing them, however, because they work. According to the Times, ratings for Trump’s briefings rival those for “hit reality shows and prime-time football.” Trump, whose star turn on NBC’s “The Apprentice” arguably had as much to do with his election to the Presidency as anything else, is obsessed with ratings. His other metrics are good, too, including a Gallup poll showing him with the highest approval rating of his Presidency (forty-nine per cent, versus a forty-five per cent disapproval rating). Even more striking were the results of a CBS/YouGov poll, released this week, in which respondents were asked what sources of information about the coronavirus they found most credible. Democrats rated medical professionals and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention most highly. Trump came in last among this group, at fourteen per cent. But, for Republicans, Trump came in at the top, with ninety per cent saying that they trusted the President’s information about the coronavirus, making him tied for first place with medical professionals. The poll shows that, even when their own lives are literally at stake, a significant subset of the American population no longer believes in almost anything other than the President.
This, in the end, is why Trump’s nightly Follies matter. Even if he cannot reopen the country by Easter, and governors and mayors ignore him, as they surely will. Even if what he says is so contradictory and at times patently false that his own followers could not possibly heed his advice as a practical guide to action.
In the long course of the Vietnam War, which lasted a full decade, some fifty-eight thousand Americans died. With the pandemic, many scientific models publicized in recent days have projected that U.S. deaths could reach far beyond that figure by the time the coronavirus has run its course, depending at least in part on what decisions Trump and other leaders take in the coming months. But this week’s Follies have shown an irresolute leader who does not want to fight the war or even, on many days, admit that it exists. He is a cartoon caricature of a wartime President, not a real one.
A Vietnam draft-dodger, who used a phony foot problem to get out of that war, Trump this week has reminded us that he would like to be a coronavirus draft-dodger, too. But the fight is not a hoax, no matter how often he suggests it is, and the President, like it or not, is already in the fight. On Tuesday, he told the country that he would soon be reopening it, “as we near the end of our historic battle with the invisible enemy.” By the time you read this, though, the battle will not be over, or even really begun. As soon as Trump finished speaking on Thursday, CNN interrupted the briefing to broadcast the news that it had been the deadliest day yet in the pandemic for the United States, with at least two hundred and thirty-seven dead, and hours more to go.
Live in Helsinki, Trump brings his blame-America-first tour to a close... let me admit that my absolute top take away was that at a critical moment in modern American history, our president managed to mention his winning margin in the Electoral College.
Bret: Also, I’m thinking about just what Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and the rest of right-wing punditry would be saying if it had been President Barack Obama at that podium, saying the sort of things Trump was saying, not to mention the way he said it.
.. They’d call him the Manchurian Candidate. They’d accuse him of treason. They’d call for an armed insurrection or something close to it. They’d say he hates America. And they wouldn’t be wrong. Here is a president of the United States who repeatedly blames America first; who takes the word of a former K.G.B. agent over his own intelligence agencies; who promises to work constructively with a despot whose regime
- kills journalists,
- shoots down civilian airliners and
- uses nerve agents to assassinate its enemies abroad;
and who aims his rhetorical fire on an opposing party instead of an enemy government. And the Make America Great Again crowd, with an exception or two, says pretty much nothing, or averts its gaze, or switches the subject.
.. John Brennan has noted, “people who go along a treasonous path do not know they are on a treasonous path until it is too late.”
.. The thought that the government — our government — just put this child through that trauma for no other reason than Jeff Sessions’ fantasy that it will “deter” desperate migrants or otherwise help Stephen Miller work out his manhood issues turns my stomach as nothing else has in a long time. That a majority of Republicans support the policy turns it even more.
In some ways, this worries me a lot more than whatever Putin and his cyber-armies might be trying to do to us. Putin is a former KGB agent, so at least he’s playing to type. It’s the trashing of democratic values from the inside that concerns me even more.
.. During his press conference in the U.K. with Theresa May, he warned Europe to watch out for immigration because it was “changing the culture.” It was such a pathetic call for racism to rise up. And then of course he blamed Sadiq Khan, London’s Muslim mayor, for encouraging terrorism.
.. I guess that, as horrific as I find the stories about those poor kids being tormented at the border, I’m even more disturbed by the way our president is trying to promote this kind of ideology around the world.
.. it’s also important to understand why they’ve gained so much strength recently. The key is their ability to traffic in half-truths, to pick up on a legitimate issue and put it to an illegitimate end.
.. That’s why I think calls in the United States to “abolish ICE” are so dangerous: They create the impression that Democrats want unregulated migration, as opposed to a generous but lawful immigration policy. And that just helps Trump and the Bannonites.
.. Gail: For most Democrats, “abolish ICE” is just shorthand for getting rid of the Trump anti-immigration agenda. Although I do agree we could use a better code. Perhaps involving a quote from the Statue of Liberty.
.. in California, their state of nearly 40 million people is only going to be represented by two senators, which is exactly the same number as Wyoming, population 579,315. I keep harping on the fact that the real division in this country is between the empty-places people and the crowded-places people. Us crowded folk are virtually disenfranchised.
.. I think Democrats need to find a way to change the conversation about immigration, in two ways. First, stop feeding the perception that immigration is an act of humanitarianism by the United States. It’s a matter of self-interest: Newcomers mainly bring energy and drive and imagination and ambition to this country. Second, accept the premise that we need to police our borders, while making the case that we can police them better with a much more liberal system that diminishes the incentive to come into the country illegally.
.. Gail: And maybe we can get somebody from Mar-a-Lago to testify on how hard it is to get affordable help.
MCEVERS: Think about it. Donald Trump was getting paid a salary by NBC to have this huge platform where he could promote his businesses, even when some of those businesses weren’t actually doing very well.
PRUITT: The brands, you know, like Taj Mahal – it was enormously difficult to promote that because you walk in there, and you see, you know, neons falling. It was the Ta Mahal or something. You know, there was no J because the neons were out (laughter). They just hadn’t had the opportunity to replace it yet. It wasn’t a priority because the carpets were already rotting, and, you know, it just stank to high heaven. So…
MCEVERS: But you mostly edit that stuff, too.
PRUITT: Well, also, the jet was, you know, questionable whether it would fly that week. The helicopter was up for sale, I believe. We didn’t know if we were going to have it next week.
MCEVERS: Huh. But that’s not the way you made it look…
PRUITT: Not at all.
MCEVERS: …In that opening sequence.
MCEVERS: Oh, my gosh. You created a fiction, a fictional billionaire.
PRUITT: Well, he had been a billionaire. I mean, everything we said about him was truthful. It’s what we didn’t say about him. Do you know what I mean? It was a convenient vacation of the truth.
MCEVERS: At the time of “The Apprentice,” Donald Trump’s companies had already been through four bankruptcies. And there were two more to come, including the Taj Mahal. But Bill Pruitt and the show made him out to be this wildly successful guy having the time of his life, a guy who millions of people started looking up to and even wanted to be like.
This is the thing that Bill Pruitt feels the most guilty about now. In helping make “The Apprentice,” Bill says he was a good con artist. He has the Emmys to prove it from other reality shows. And on “The Apprentice,” his con helped take Donald Trump all the way to the White House.
PRUITT: We told a story. We went with beginnings and middles and ends and villains and protagonists. And we went about the business of putting music and picture and sound together, the things that we thought we wanted to get up in the morning and do with our lives. And now, all of a sudden, we’re here. A cultural icon emerged because we weren’t necessarily truthful about our portrayal.
Will the vice president—and the religious right—be rewarded for their embrace of Donald Trump?
Casting himself as the heir to the popular outgoing governor, Mitch Daniels, he avoided social issues and ran on a pragmatic, business-friendly platform. He used Ronald Reagan as a political style guru and told his ad makers that he wanted his campaign commercials to have “that ‘Morning in America’ feel.” He meticulously fine-tuned early cuts of the ads, asking his consultants to edit this or reframe that or zoom in here instead of there.
.. set about cutting taxes and taking on local unions—burnishing a résumé that would impress Republican donors and Iowa caucus-goers. The governor’s stock began to rise in Washington
.. In recent years, the religious right had been abruptly forced to pivot from offense to defense in the culture wars—abandoning the “family values” crusades and talk of “remoralizing America,” and focusing its energies on self-preservation.
..“Many evangelicals were experiencing the sense of an almost existential threat,” Russell Moore, a leader of the Southern Baptist Convention, told me.
It was only a matter of time, he said, before cultural elites’ scornful attitudes would help drive Christians into the arms of a strongman like Trump. “I think there needs to be a deep reflection on the left about how they helped make this happen.”
.. Coming into the game, Trump had formed an opinion of the Indiana governor as prudish, stiff, and embarrassingly poor, according to one longtime associate.
.. Pence asked what his job description would be if they wound up in the White House together. Trump gave him the same answer he’d been dangling in front of other prospective running mates for weeks: He wanted “the most consequential vice president ever.” Pence was sold.
.. “I knew they would enjoy each other’s company,” Conway told me, adding, “Mike Pence is someone whose faith allows him to subvert his ego to the greater good.”
.. Pence spent much of their time on the course kissing Trump’s ring. You’re going to be the next president of the United States, he said. It would be the honor of a lifetime to serve you.
Afterward, he made a point of gushing to the press about Trump’s golf game. “He beat me like a drum,” Pence confessed, to Trump’s delight.
.. Trump released a list of potential Supreme Court nominees with unimpeachably pro-life records and assembled an evangelical advisory board composed of high-profile faith leaders.
.. One of the men asked to join the board was Richard Land, of the Southern Evangelical Seminary. When the campaign approached him with the offer, Land says, he was perplexed. “You do know that Trump was my last choice, right?” he said. But he ultimately accepted, and when a campaign aide asked what his first piece of advice was, he didn’t hesitate: “Pick Mike Pence.”
.. Then, on July 12, a miracle: During a short campaign swing through Indiana, Trump got word that his plane had broken down on the runway, and that he would need to spend the night in Indianapolis. With nowhere else to go, Trump accepted an invitation to dine with the Pences.
.. In fact, according to two former Trump aides, there was no problem with the plane. Paul Manafort, who was then serving as the campaign’s chairman, had made up the story to keep the candidate in town an extra day and allow him to be wooed by Pence.
.. Pence spoke of Trump in a tone that bordered on worshipful. One of his rhetorical tics was to praise the breadth of his running mate’s shoulders. Trump was, Pence proclaimed, a “broad-shouldered leader,” in possession of “broad shoulders and a big heart,” who had “the kind of broad shoulders” that enabled him to endure criticism while he worked to return “broad-shouldered American strength to the world stage.”
.. Campaign operatives discovered that anytime Trump did something outrageous or embarrassing, they could count on Pence to clean it up. “He was our top surrogate by far,”
.. “He was this mild-mannered, uber-Christian guy with a Midwestern accent telling voters, ‘Trump is a good man; I know what’s in his heart.’ It was very convincing—you wanted to trust him.
.. Even some of Trump’s most devoted loyalists marveled at what Pence was willing to say. There was no talking point too preposterous, no fixed reality too plain to deny
.. When, during the vice-presidential debate, in early October, he was confronted with a barrage of damning quotes and questionable positions held by his running mate, Pence responded with unnerving message discipline, dismissing documented facts as “nonsense” and smears.
.. It was the kind of performance—a blur of half-truths and “whatabout”s and lies—that could make a good Christian queasy.
.. Marc Short, a longtime adviser to Pence and a fellow Christian, told me that the vice president believes strongly in a scriptural concept evangelicals call “servant leadership.” The idea is rooted in the Gospels, where Jesus models humility by washing his disciples’ feet and teaches, “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave.”
.. when he accepted the vice-presidential nomination, he believed he was committing to humbly submit to the will of Donald Trump. “Servant leadership is biblical,” Short told me. “That’s at the heart of it for Mike, and it comes across in his relationship with the president.”
.. “His faith teaches that you’re under authority at all times.
- Christ is under God’s authority,
- man is under Christ’s authority,
- children are under the parents’ authority,
- employees are under the employer’s authority.”
.. “Mike,” he added, “always knows who’s in charge.”
.. On friday, october 7, 2016, The Washington Post published the Access Hollywood tape
.. Most alarming to the aides and operatives inside Trump Tower, Mike Pence suddenly seemed at risk of going rogue.
.. Republican donors and party leaders began buzzing about making Pence the nominee and drafting Condoleezza Rice as his running mate.
.. The furtive plotting, several sources told me, was not just an act of political opportunism for Pence. He was genuinely shocked by the Access Hollywood tape. In the short time they’d known each other, Trump had made an effort to convince Pence that—beneath all the made-for-TV bluster and bravado—he was a good-hearted man with faith in God. On the night of the vice-presidential debate, for example, Trump had left a voicemail letting Pence know that he’d just said a prayer for him. The couple was appalled by the video, however. Karen in particular was “disgusted,” says a former campaign aide. “She finds him reprehensible—just totally vile.”
.. Pence turns to a favorite passage in Jeremiah: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
.. “They thought they were going to be able to get him to drop out before the second debate,” said a former campaign aide. “Little did they know, he has no shame.”
.. Trump showed up in St. Louis for the debate with a group of Bill Clinton accusers in tow, ranting about how Hillary’s husband had done things to women that were far worse than his own “locker-room talk.”
.. In political circles, there had been a widespread, bipartisan recognition that Pence was a decent man with a genuine devotion to his faith. But after watching him in 2016, many told me, they believed Pence had sold out.
.. watching Pence vouch for Trump made him sad. “Ah, Mike,” he sighed. “Ambition got the best of him.” It’s an impression that even some of Pence’s oldest friends and allies privately share.
.. “The number of compromises he made to get this job, when you think about it, is pretty staggering.”
.. Pastor Ralph Drollinger, for example, caught Trump’s attention in December 2015, when he said in a radio interview, “America’s in such desperate straits—especially economically—that if we don’t have almost a benevolent dictator to turn things around, I just don’t think it’s gonna happen through our governance system.” Now Drollinger runs a weekly Bible study in the West Wing.
.. On one side, there are those who argue that good Christians are obligated to support any leader, no matter how personally wicked he may be, who stands up for religious freedom and fights sinful practices such as abortion. Richard Land told me that those who withhold their support from Trump because they’re uncomfortable with his moral failings will “become morally accountable for letting the greater evil prevail.”
.. On the other side of the debate is a smaller group that believes the Christians allying themselves with Trump are putting the entire evangelical movement at risk. Russell Moore, of the Southern Baptist Convention, has made this case forcefully.
.. only 30 percent of white evangelicals believed “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.”
.. One pastor compared Pence to Mordechai, who ascended to the right hand of a Persian king known for throwing lavish parties and discarding his wife after she refused to appear naked in front of his friends.
.. Pastor Mark Burns—a South Carolina televangelist who was among the first to sign on as a faith adviser to Trump—told me Pence’s role in the administration is like that of Jesus, who once miraculously calmed a storm that was threatening to sink the boat
.. Of the 15 Cabinet secretaries Trump picked at the start of his presidency, eight were evangelicals. It was, gushed Ted Cruz, “the most conservative Cabinet in decades.”
.. Pence understood the price of his influence. To keep Trump’s ear required frequent public performances of loyalty and submission—and Pence made certain his inner circle knew that enduring such indignities was part of the job.
.. “Look, I’m in a difficult position here,” Pence said, according to someone familiar with the meeting. “I’m going to have to 100 percent defend everything the president says. Is that something you’re going to be able to do if you’re on my staff?”
.. Trump does not always reciprocate this respect. Around the White House, he has been known to make fun of Pence for his religiosity.
.. During a conversation with a legal scholar about gay rights, Trump gestured toward his vice president and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”
.. “They have moved to an ends-justifies-the means style of politics that would have been unimaginable before this last campaign.”
.. he thought it was so low class,” says the adviser. “He thinks the Pences are yokels.”
.. Social conservatives had been lobbying the president to issue a sweeping executive order aimed at carving out protections for religious organizations and individuals opposed to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and transgender rights. The proposed order was fairly radical, but proponents argued that it would strike a crucial blow against the militant secularists trying to drive the faithful out of the public square.
.. “Bannon wanted to fight for it,” says the Trump associate, “and he was really unimpressed that Pence wouldn’t do anything.”
.. But perhaps Pence was playing the long game—weighing the risks of taking on Trump’s kids, and deciding to stand down in the interest of preserving his relationship with the president.
.. What would a Pence presidency look like? To a conservative evangelical, it could mean a glorious return to the Christian values upon which America was founded. To a secular liberal, it might look more like a descent into the dystopia of The Handmaid’s Tale.
.. What critics should worry about is not that Pence believes in God, but that he seems so certain God believes in him. What happens when manifest destiny replaces humility, and the line between faith and hubris blurs? What unseemly compromises get made? What means become tolerable in pursuit of an end?
.. Trump’s order merely made it easier for pastors to voice political opinions from the pulpit—a conspicuously self-serving take on religious freedom.
.. The faith leaders pulled out their smartphones and snapped selfies, intoxicated by the VIP treatment. “Mr. President,” Robert Jeffress, the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, said at one point, “we’re going to be your most loyal friends. We’re going to be your enthusiastic supporters. And we thank God every day that you’re the president of the United States.”
.. “I’ve been with [Trump] alone in the room when the decisions are made. He and I have prayed together,” Pence said. “This is somebody who shares our views, shares our values, shares our beliefs.” Pence didn’t waste time touting his own credentials. With this crowd, he didn’t need to. Instead, as always, he lavished praise on the president.