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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

Trump can't stop fevered denials about aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Sean Conley, the White House physician, talks

Dr. Sean Conley, the White House physician, talks about President Donald Trump's coronavirus status Sunday outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Credit: EPA / Michael Reynolds

An elected executive other than President Donald Trump might have been perceived long ago as unraveling politically or mentally, or both. But it's difficult to chart the irascible Trump's behavioral trends from one week to the next.

This week it became clear Trump is determined to issue spin and denial about COVID-19 even after catching it. Rejecting as he did months ago that the virus is a very big problem for everybody has now given way to a jarring mess of smaller and more specific Trump denials.

Call these his sub-denials — whether strategic or irrational — regarding the disease.

Trump said he won't take part in the next debate against Joe Biden next week since it was shifted to a virtual format out of concern for the president's infection. Trump told Fox Business Network on Thursday that he wasn't "going to waste my time on a virtual debate."

The president complained he would have to "sit behind a computer" in a virtual debate and the moderator could "cut you off whenever they want." This was discussed after Trump's interruptions and hectoring marred last week's debate.

"I feel perfect. There’s nothing wrong," he said. "I don’t think I’m contagious at all." Given the official time frame for his reported symptoms, that denial is dubious unless Trump could have caught COVID earlier than reported.

The virus has raged through the White House, affecting employees from janitorial staff to top aides. Doesn't it imply a kind of denial for Trump to leave a hospital earlier than advised and insist on going to the Oval Office earlier than advised?

Another peculiar denial, or self-contradiction, came in the Fox interview. "I think I would have done it fine without drugs. You don't really need drugs," Trump said. But he also said in practically the same breath that he had "tremendous luck" with an antibody cocktail made by Regeneron that he called a "cure."

On Wednesday night, Vice President Mike Pence was forced to come up with his best denials when Susan Page, the moderator in his debate with challenger Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), asked him: "You were in the front row in a Rose Garden event 11 days ago at what seems to have been a superspreader event … No social distancing. Few masks. And now, a cluster of coronavirus cases among those who were there.

"How can you expect Americans to follow the administration’s safety guidelines to protect themselves from COVID, when you at the White House have not been doing so?" Page asked.

A pained-looking Pence cited his confidence in Americans protecting themselves once they're informed of how to do so, although Trump has given out misinformation on the subject. Pence said many at the Rose Garden event, where Trump announced Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, were tested for the coronavirus, though that isn't foolproof. Pence called it an "outdoor event," though it also featured an indoor reception where masks and distancing weren't much in evidence.

Trump also is in denial when one survey after another suggests his performance in the pandemic helped drive down his support around the country.

"I don’t believe the polls," he said Thursday. "Because we’ve never had this much support. They have a boat thing, they have 5,000 boats. They have thousands of trucks all over the country."

As before, Trump on Thursday demanded that Attorney General William Barr arrest people the president considers his political enemies for what Trump evokes as a criminal conspiracy against him.

But the FBI and the Justice Department under Barr on Thursday announced a very different kind of high-profile arrest — of six Michigan men who allegedly conspired to kidnap Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. She's a regular attack target in Trump's tweets.

The defendants essentially were accused of right-wing domestic terrorism, the kind the president insists poses less of a public threat than left-wing anti-police demonstrators.

Back in April, Trump tweeted "Liberate Michigan!" in clear defiance of Whitmer and her coronavirus restrictions. He did the same with other states. The "liberate" slogan would resound with protesters who denied the severity of the virus's spread at demonstrations the president appeared to encourage.

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