Between early December 2019 and mid-August 2020, the legendary Washington Post reporter conducted 18 interviews with Trump for his book “Rage,” which came out earlier this week. In total, Woodward has spent nearly 10 hours interviewing Trump since last December, which means when Woodward comes up with a Trump assessment, we should listen. That’s what he did on Tuesday night in an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. Asked by Cooper about Trump’s claim that he read “Rage” cover to cover in a single night, Woodward responded this way (the bold is mine):
“And he said, it’s very boring.
“And then the Fox News anchor – thank you – asked him, ‘Is that right?’ And you know what the president said?
“I mean, I want to be specific here. He said, ‘It’s okay. I mean, it’s okay. “And he said it was a political hit and all that stuff.
“The – I don’t know, to be honest, if he’s got what’s real and what’s unreal in his hands.
“That’s why at the end of the book I say, overall my judgment is that he’s not the right man for the job. How can you have the experience of living this White House, like I did for the end of four years and more, and having not only chatted with him, but people in the White House, people from the CIA, people from the Pentagon, people from the State Department , trying to get a big picture of what administration is? can you have that experience and not come to that conclusion? “
Anderson, because he’s a good interviewer, clung to that line from Woodward that I bolded above. And he followed up with Woodward:
Cooper: But it’s terrifying to hear you say that, considering you’ve interviewed so many presidents.
Have you ever interviewed another president who you would say the same thing, whose difference they don’t know?
Yes, Anderson, “terrifying” is the right word here. Woodward, after all, is known for his low-key demeanor and low-key approach. He’s not some guy claiming to sell books. He’s also someone with an impeccable record as the preeminent chronicler of presidents dating back to George W. Bush. And oh yeah. Woodward was half of the Washington Post team that broke the Watergate scandal.
For someone with Woodward’s level of credibility – and who has so closely reported on the last three Presidents of the White House – to say he doesn’t know if Trump can distinguish between what is “real” and what which is “unreal”, then, is a magnificent thing. Like the kind of thing that should make every thoughtful person in the country stop on their tracks when they hear it.
Here’s the thing: There is plenty of evidence to support Woodward’s claim that Trump just isn’t able to tell the difference between objective facts and the story of his life he is telling himself.
Trump’s continued insistence that we are ‘turning the corner’ in our fight against Covid-19 is not backed up by data or by medical experts. His claim that he has done all he could have done to deal with the pandemic is undermined by how other countries have been able to reduce their numbers of cases and deaths by instituting strict social distancing policies and wearing masks in the first days of the epidemic. His claim on Tuesday night that he “played” the threat of the virus on the public is directly contradicted by the fact that Trump told Woodward in March that he had deliberately “played down” the virus.
And that’s only on Covid-19! Trump’s inability to stick to factual reality permeates every nook and cranny of his personal and political life – from his multiple bankruptcies, to his ridiculous claims about illegal voting and voter fraud, to his exaggerations about his personal wealth.
The perspective Woodward raised in his interview with Anderson is that Trump has lived so long in a fantasy world of his own creation – where he’s still, the best, the strongest, the hero – that he doesn’t have the ability to make a difference. this world and the world we all live in.
It is a disturbing thing to contemplate in anyone. It’s absolutely scary when the person we’re talking about is the President of the United States.
CNN’s Allison Gordon contributed to this analysis.
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