Reprinted with permission from MediaMatters
President Donald Trump conducted a two-hour phone interview on Friday with talk radio host and Trump-conferred Medal of Freedom recipient Rush Limbaugh. Promoted beforehand by Limbaugh as the "largest virtual rally in radio history" — and coming right after Trump publicly refused to hold next week's presidential debate remotely, despite his recent COVID-19 diagnosis — the appearance instead became a lengthy conversation between the two men, attempting to cast the president as America's great leader in these tumultuous times.
The interview began in a quite surreal fashion, with Limbaugh's production team playing a recording of God Bless the U.S.A., a country song often performed at Republican rallies, followed by the canned sound of imaginary cheering crowds. And then Limbaugh greeted the president, asking his guest to envision the sight of a great campaign rally.
"I want you to imagine you have just landed in a gleaming, majestic Air Force One to the largest radio rally in history," he said. "Instead of thousands cheering as you walk up to the stage, there are millions and millions of patriots out there right now anxiously awaiting to hear from you. No doubt, they are waving Trump flags, wearing their bright red MAGA hats proudly. This, sir, is a mega-MAGA rally and we are all thrilled to be with you today."
In other words, Limbaugh was calling to mind the kind of rally that Trump would want to keep on holding, even during the pandemic — indeed, the president threw a rally just last week in Duluth, Minnesota, complete with racist conspiracy theories and "Lock her up" chants.
But somehow, Limbaugh suggested, an imaginary rally could still embody that sense of triumphalism.
As for Trump's health, the president touted the antibody treatment that he received during his brief hospitalization at Walter Reed: "You know, I was not in the greatest of shape. A day later I was fine, maybe perfect, but I was fine. But a couple of days later, now I'm free. You know, I feel perfect. I have no, I'm not taking anything. You know, I'm off any regimen that they gave me, but it was primarily this one drug."
"I've been reading that you've got a hacking cough and that your voice is hoarse," Limbaugh later said, in a tone meant to mock any such suspicions.
"No, no, no," Trump said.
"And you sound perfectly normal to me."
Trump further insisted that the cure had been found — despite efforts to not give him any credit.
"And I'm just saying that we have something that will cure this now. And a cure. And without us, without Trump administration, this would never have happened," he said. "We poured money into these cures, and we poured money into the vaccines. And the vaccines are coming along great, Rush. I mean, the vaccines, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Pfizer, they're all coming along great. They're a little bit political. You know, they're afraid it's going to go too fast and I'll get credit for it before the election."
Trump later segued from a claim that he was doing better than the "fake polls" to paint an elaborate conspiracy theory about claims that he had become unfit to hold office: suggesting that any talk of invoking the 25th Amendment, which would declare him no longer capable of exercising his office, was really a scheme to set precedent for such a maneuver to be used against his Democratic opponent in the future.
"The 25th Amendment that Crazy Nancy [Pelosi] is playing around with — she's gone crazy, she's a nutjob. But this 25th Amendment, I think they put it in so they can get Kamala [Harris] in to replace" Joe Biden, he said.
"Exactly, that's exactly what it is, it's a trial run to see if they can kick Biden out," Limbaugh said. "That's exactly right, sir, that's exactly right. It's not aimed at you."
"That was the first thing I thought of," Trump added.
And while Trump frequently repeated his claim that he was doing better than the polls gave him credit for, he also went back to another common theme: alleging massive amounts of fraudulent votes against him, concentrated in the Democratic bastion of California.
"I think we'll do well in California," the president said. "In theory, you don't win California because everybody likes to vote three times — OK, if you want to know the truth."
"We are going to get into that later in the program," the host assured him.
"The whole thing is crazy," Trump said. "But the people, if they want to vote, they vote numerous times — numerous times — and it's disgraceful."
Just to be clear on this point, the FiveThirtyEight poll average in California has Biden ahead currently by 62.1% to Trump's 30.9%.
The two of them returned to this topic toward the very end of the interview, with Limbaugh referring to "mail-in ballots — or as the Democrats see it, mail-in fraud." This discussion then went in much more granular detail about a very dangerous political maneuver that may be on the horizon.
Trump, Limbaugh and many of the president's other right-wing media allies have recently been pushing a raft of similarly misleading local news stories to discredit absentee ballots and spreading a variety of falsehoods about supposed mail-in voting fraud. Their goal is reportedly to use any potential lead that Trump might have from just the election night returns — stemming from a greater perceived interest in absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic by Democratic voters compared to Republicans — to declare that he is the victor by claiming that only those initial, in-person votes should be counted as legitimate.
"I want to see on November 3 who won the election, so do you," said Trump. "You want to turn on your television like we have for the last 50 years and find out who won the election, right? You don't want to say, 'Oh gee, they have two weeks to count their ballots,' and then what happens is all sorts of ballots start showing up miraculously."
Trump further added that the "best way" to handle the situation was for "my people, Republican people" to "get up" and either use early voting that takes place at an actual machine, or to go to the polls in person on Election Day: "And wait until you see the kind of love that's going to be expressed the day those polls open — the day those machines open, wait until you see. But the Democrats are sending in 80% of theirs by ballot."
Trump also touted his signature project of constructing a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, claiming it was "actually one of the biggest government projects ever. Anyway, so we're building the wall, we're up to 380 miles of wall." He further added: "And nobody thought I was going to get it done. Now it's almost completed. It will be completed toward the end of the year, very soon."
In fact, nearly all construction that has taken place during Trump's presidency has been to simply replace previous barriers at the border, which had become dilapidated over time — and even then, the new construction hasn't been especially sturdy or imposing, either.
A very disturbing moment came when Limbaugh informed Trump about a story from Axios reporting that Attorney General Bill Barr has told Republicans that John Durham, his handpicked investigator to go after the "top Obama administration officials" who had investigated the Trump campaign over Russian interference in the 2016 election, would not be releasing any report before the 2020 election.
Referring to the Russia investigation as a "coup run against" Trump, Limbaugh said, "This is the biggest political scandal in the history of this country, certainly our lifetimes."
Trump called this development "terrible" and further declared, "If that's the case, I'm very disappointed, I think it's a terrible thing. And I'll say it to his face." Though it was not clear whether he was referring to Barr or Durham, the bottom line remains that Trump publicly declared his intention to make direct demands of investigators in going after his own political enemies.
Trump also made absolutely clear the degree to which he took a personal interest in such an investigation: "That's another thing I'm fighting for because these people have to be brought to justice. But they should've been brought to justice before the election. But if we don't win this election, if we don't win, that whole thing is going to be dismissed."
The interview concluded after nearly two hours with Limbaugh as the one bringing it to a close, noting that the president must be busy with "jam-packed day left on your schedule." (For example, as Limbaugh noted, Trump would also be appearing tonight with "brother Levin" — that is, right-wing talk radio and Fox News host Mark Levin.)
"So we appreciate it, sir. We love you, and I meant everything I said today," Limbaugh concluded. "You are the person standing in the way, you are the one that true American patriots have invested their hopes for their future and their kids' future in. You are the person they are depending on to stave off this attack on our country that is coming from inside. It's coming from inside our country as opposed to outside — although that's happening, too."
"And you know what I often say when people say that?" Trump replied. "I have no choice. I have to do it. I have no choice and that's what I'm doing."
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