WASHINGTON — An agitated President Trump offered a string of combative and often dubious assertions in an interview aired Sunday, defending his handling of the coronavirus with misleading evidence, attacking his own health experts, disputing polls showing him trailing in his re-election race and defending people who display the Confederate flag as victims of “cancel culture.”
The president’s remarks, delivered in an interview on “Fox News Sunday,” amounted to a contentious potpourri more commonly found on his Twitter feed and at his political rallies.
The difference this time was a vigorous attempt by the host, Chris Wallace, to fact-check him, leading to several clashes between the two on matters ranging from the coronavirus response to whether Mr. Trump would accept the results of the election should he lose.
The president made a litany of false claims about his administration’s handling of the virus, despite evidence that key officials and public health experts advising the president made crucial missteps and played down the spread of the disease this spring. In the interview, Mr. Trump falsely claimed that the United States had “one of the lowest mortality rates in the world” from the virus.
“That’s not true, sir,” Mr. Wallace said.
“Do you have the numbers, please?” Mr. Trump said. “Because I heard we had the best mortality rate.”
The United States has the eighth-worst fatality rate among reported coronavirus cases in the world, and the death rate per 100,000 people — 42.83 — ranks it third-worst, according to data on the countries most affected by the coronavirus compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Mr. Trump said that by increasing testing, his administration was “creating trouble for the fake news to come along and say, ‘Oh, we have more cases.’”
Mr. Trump falsely claimed that the coronavirus case rate in other countries was lower than in the United States because those nations did not engage in testing. When Mr. Wallace pointed out a low case rate across the European Union, the president suggested it was possible that those countries “don’t test.” And when Mr. Wallace pointed out that the death rate in the United States was rising, Mr. Trump replied by blaming China.
“Excuse me, it’s all too much, it shouldn’t be one case,” Mr. Trump said. “It came from China. They should’ve never let it escape. They should’ve never let it out. But it is what it is. Take a look at Europe, take a look at the numbers in Europe. And by the way, they’re having cases.”
Mr. Trump called Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, an “alarmist” who provided faulty information in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I don’t know that he’s a leaker,” Mr. Trump said during the interview. “He’s a little bit of an alarmist. That’s OK. A little bit of an alarmist.”
Mr. Trump said that Dr. Fauci had been against his decision to close the borders to travelers from China in January. That is misleading: While Dr. Fauci initially opposed the idea on the grounds that a ban would prevent medical professionals from traveling to hard-hit areas, he supported the decision by the time it was made.
Mr. Trump also said Dr. Fauci had been against Americans wearing masks. Dr. Fauci has said he does not regret urging Americans not to wear masks in the early days of the pandemic, citing a severe shortage of protective gear for medical professionals at the time.
Mr. Trump said he doubted whether Dr. Robert R. Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was correct in predicting that the pandemic would be worse this fall. “I don’t know,” Mr. Trump said. “And I don’t think he knows.”
He said public health experts and the World Health Organization “got a lot wrong” early on, including a theory that the virus would abate as the weather warmed — one that Mr. Trump himself had promoted repeatedly. Then the president reiterated his earlier claim, unsupported by science, that the virus would suddenly cease one day. “It’s going to disappear, and I’ll be right,” Mr. Trump said. “Because I’ve been right probably more than anybody else.”
Mr. Trump insulted Fox News pollsters as “among the worst” when presented with data that showed him trailing former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee, claiming that he had seen polls that showed him winning.
“I understand you still have more than 100 days to this election, but at this point you’re losing,” Mr. Wallace told Mr. Trump after detailing a new Fox News poll that showed Mr. Biden leading the president by eight points, 49 percent to 41 percent, among registered voters.
“First of all, I’m not losing,” Mr. Trump replied, “because those are fake polls. They were fake in 2016, and now they’re even more fake. The polls were much worse in 2016.”
But in reality, the Fox News poll was much better for him than another major survey released Sunday. A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed Mr. Biden with a double-digit lead: 55 percent to 40 percent among registered voters. The numbers were part of a slate of polls showing Mr. Biden’s lead widening as the pandemic weighed on the president’s approval ratings.
Mr. Trump said he was not worried about losing the election with the decision last week to replace his campaign manager, Brad Parscale. Mr. Trump called Mr. Parscale “a great digital guy” before saying that many of his 2016 campaign hands were getting more involved. He did not mention his new campaign manager, Bill Stepien, by name.
When told that Mr. Biden was chosen in the Fox poll as the more mentally sound candidate, Mr. Trump disputed that finding and defended his cognitive test results to Mr. Wallace, who said he had taken the same test that the president had bragged about acing this month. Mr. Wallace pointed out that one of the questions asked to identify an elephant.
“It’s all misrepresentation,” Mr. Trump said. “Because, yes, the first few questions are easy, but I’ll bet you couldn’t even answer the last five questions. I’ll bet you couldn’t. They get very hard, the last five questions.”
Mr. Trump suggested that he might not accept the results of the election should he lose. Mr. Wallace, who spent the interview grilling the president — a tactic he has used in other high-profile interviews — pointed out that Mr. Trump said the same thing in 2016.
“You don’t know until you see,” Mr. Trump said. “It depends. I think mail-in voting is going to rig the election. I really do.”
Mr. Trump, who has voted by mail, has repeatedly warned, without evidence, that mail elections would involve robbed mailboxes, forged signatures and ballots printed by foreign countries.
Race and Policing
Mr. Trump again tried to attack Mr. Biden, claiming that the former vice president wanted to defund the police. The president suggested this was evidenced by his work with more progressive Democrats to create a charter pledging to work together on matters including changes to policing.
“It says nothing about defunding the police,” Mr. Wallace said of that document.
“Oh really? It says abolish, it says defund. Let’s go! Get me the charter, please,” Mr. Trump said, before demanding to see the document. In a promotional clip of the interview, Mr. Wallace said the president had been unable to find evidence that Mr. Biden sought to defund or abolish the police.
When Mr. Wallace asked the president if he could understand why Black people would be angry about their increased likelihood to be killed by the police, Mr. Trump reiterated a claim he made in another interview last week: that white people are fatally shot in high numbers, too.
“I mean, many, many whites are killed,” Mr. Trump said. “I hate to say, but this is going on for decades.”
Statistics show that while more white Americans are killed by the police over all, people of color are killed at higher rates.
Mr. Trump also refused to back down from supporting people who were against abolishing the Confederate flag, even as Mr. Wallace pointed out that they had used it in defense of slavery. The president equated the movement to pull down the flags and Confederate monuments to “cancel culture,” a term more commonly used to describe a boycott against a person, often a celebrity, who says or does something culturally offensive.
“And you know, the whole thing with cancel culture, we can’t cancel our whole history,” Mr. Trump said. “We can’t forget that the North and the South fought. We have to remember that. Otherwise we’ll end up fighting again.”