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Trump unleashes #PresidentLysol scorn -- and upstages allies' efforts to boost Tara Reade story

By Clarence Page, Tribune Content Agency on

When I saw #PresidentLysol trending on Twitter, I knew President Donald Trump had a problem.

If President Trump has excelled at anything throughout his brief but spectacular career in politics, it is in the crucially important task of defining his opponents before they can define him.

The former real estate developer and reality TV star usually has done this through punchy and powerful nicknames, smear jobs and mockery such as "Crooked Hillary," "Little Mario," "Low-energy Jeb" and most recently "Sleepy Joe," as in Joe Biden, the likely Democratic nominee for Trump's current job.

Yet, out of the many nicknames that Trump's critics have come up with -- and some of them are more printable than others -- I would argue that he's been the most stick-resistant "Teflon president" since Ronald Reagan.

Until now. Trump's inability to keep a lid on his own remarks during his daily news briefings led to what may be the worst unforced error of his presidency when he speculated last week as to whether light and disinfectant could be used to fight the virus inside the bodies of coronavirus patients.

Folks, do not try this at home or anywhere else. Trump later said he was only being "sarcastic" with that remark, but sarcasm, which my dictionary defines as "sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain," makes no sense as a description of what Trump was expressing.

Those who failed to get his joke included those who flooded emergency poison hotlines with calls.

And, as much as Trump tries to employ his usual spinmaster talents of deflection and obfuscation, his fellow Republican leaders cannot afford to be fooled -- especially during a presidential election year in which the economy has been firebombed by the coronavirus pandemic, 26 million Americans are unemployed and mixed messages keep coming out of his press briefings.

Rep. Tom Cole, an Oklahoma Republican, wisely told The New York Times that the president has to change his tone and offer more than a campaign of grievance. "You got to have some hope to sell people," Cole said. "But Trump usually sells anger, division and 'we're the victim.' "

 

It's easy to note ironically, not just sarcastically, how Trump turned to his daily coronavirus briefings as a makeshift substitute for the mass rallies where he delights in entertaining crowds with his sarcastic shots at his foes. But yielding to his love for the roar of the crowds and the sound of his own voice, he has turned his alternative stage into a soapbox for his own self-destruction.

Now Republican leaders are reportedly getting nervous about keeping the White House and even holding onto the Senate. Earlier this month, the National Republican Senatorial Committee circulated a revealing memo. In responding to the coronavirus, it advised GOP candidates: "Don't defend Trump, other than the China Travel Ban -- attack China."

The Trump campaign warned GOP candidates against following that advice. But the disinfectant distraction -- shall we call it LysolGate? -- also comes at a time when Trump's allies were hoping to highlight a new revelation in the sexual misconduct allegations that former Biden aide Tara Reade has made against the former vice president and senator. Lynda LaCasse, a former neighbor of Reade, has come forward to corroborate her account in an interview with Business Insider published Monday.

LaCasse said Reade told her in the mid-1990s that Biden had "put his hand up her skirt and he put his fingers inside her," she said. Biden's campaign flatly denies the allegations, but he has not said anything in public about them. He needs to do so, and I presume that he will as the campaign heats up. For now, I foresee a can-you-top-this debate over the allegations against Biden vs. the two dozen women who have made similar charges against Trump.

That sort of he-said-they-said scandal is hardly new in politics. If anything, it shows both sides that "Believe the Women" slogans should never replace such old-fashioned niceties as due process and the presumption of innocence.

But the #PresidentLysol tag gets to the heart of an issue every candidate also must remember: Don't let your effectiveness be compromised by your appetite for attention.

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(E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@chicagotribune.com.)

(c) 2020 CLARENCE PAGE DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE MEDIA SERVICES, INC.
 

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