Donald Trump on Thursday night sought to defend his public downplaying of the coronavirus threat by comparing his response to former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
"As the British government advised the British people in the face of World War II, 'Keep calm and carry on.' That's what I did," Trump said at a rally in Michigan, where images showed the majority of rallygoers did not wear masks, nor adhere to social-distancing guidelines mandated in the state.
Trump added, "When Hitler was bombing London, Churchill, a great leader, would oftentimes go to a roof in London and speak. And he always spoke with calmness. He said we have to show calmness. No, we did it the right way. We've done a job like nobody."
The comparison is historically inaccurate.
Churchill did not hide information from the British people as his country was being bombed in World War II. Rather, Churchill was blunt about the threat.
In his first speech as prime minister, as the war against fascism raged in Europe, Churchill said:
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I can say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark, lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.
Trump's inaccurate Churchill comparison Thursday night is part of a long history of Trump — as well as his aides and surrogates — invoking Churchill.
Earlier Thursday, Mike Pence also compared Trump's downplaying of the virus despite knowing its perils to Churchill.
"There's that old saying from World War II in Great Britain, 'Keep calm. Carry on.' That was the presidential leadership that I saw," Pence said in an interview on Fox News.
"And I would note that throughout all of time, we've seen presidents and leaders across the world who've had leadership moments and very powerful symbols that were important for a nation to see at any given time to show a message of resilience and determination like Churchill, we saw him inspecting the bombing damage," McEnany said, adding that Trump's photo-op resembled Churchill's actions because it was "powerful and important to send a message that the rioters, the looters, the anarchists, they will not prevail."
Trump himself has also invoked Churchill a handful of times in the past.
Back in June 2019, after a Democratic debate in which now vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris attacked her now-running-mate, Joe Biden, Trump said Biden didn't handle it as well as Churchill would.
"I think she was given far too much credit for what she did. That was so out of the can what she said. That thing was right out of a box. And I thought that he didn't respond great. I wouldn't say it was — this was not Winston Churchill we're dealing with, okay? But it wasn't — it wasn't, I don't think, nearly as bad as they portended it to be," Trump said.
Back in June, as Trump raged about calls for removing monuments to Confederate generals across the country, he wondered aloud whether opponents of honoring traitors would also call for removals of Churchill statues.
"We believe that the beloved heroes of American history should not be torn down by militant mobs, but held up as an example to the world," Trump said, listing off statues of former presidents who were slave owners and whether statues of them should come down.
"How about Gandhi? How about Churchill? You know, Churchill — because this is going outside of our country now," Trump said.
In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 29, Trump brought up a Biden slip-up on the campaign trail, and complained that he isn't afforded any grace to make mistakes.
He's got a bad habit. "Ladies and gentlemen of Ohio, it's great to be with you." "Joe. Joe, you're an Iowa." That was seven times he's done that. I haven't done it once. And if I did, you know what I'd do? I'd walk off the stage because there's nothing you can do to come back from that. You can be — you can be Winston Churchill; he was a great, great speaker. Winston Churchill was pretty good, right? You could be Winston Churchill for the rest of the speech. And the press doesn't kill him.
Trump made almost an identical comment on Aug. 6. At what was supposed to be an official White House event at a Whirlpool plant in Ohio, Trump attacked Biden in a way he would at a campaign rally.
And, by the way, as I was leaving for the great state of Ohio — did you ever watch Biden, where he's always saying the wrong state? "It's great to be in Florida. Florida." "No, it's Ohio." I've never seen a guy — I haven't done that one yet; that's a disaster. I always say — Jim Jordan — if you do that, it's over, right? You can be Winston Churchill. The speeches is over; you just walk off the stage.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.