- President Donald Trump compared his decision to mislead Americans about the coronavirus early in the outbreak to Winston Churchill's World War II leadership.
- "As the British government advised the British people in the face of World War II, keep calm and carry on," Trump told a Michigan rally on Thursday. "That's what I did."
- Critics noted, however, that Churchill was bluntly honest with the British people about the dangers they faced in his wartime addresses, while Trump clearly deceived Americans.
- Trump's denials come after reporter Bob Woodward released tapes from February 2020, in which Trump told him the coronavirus was deadlier than the most severe flu.
- But in public remarks after that conversation, Trump continued to falsely liken the disease to the flu and downplay its potential impact.
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President Donald Trump on Thursday compared himself to Britain's wartime prime minister Winston Churchill as he defended his decision to lie to the American people about the dangers posed by the novel coronavirus in the early weeks of the outbreak.
Trump was addressing the revelations in reporter Bob Woodward's new book, "Rage," which included recordings of Trump telling Woodward in early February that the coronavirus was "more deadly than strenuous flus" — weeks before Trump went on downplay the coronavirus in several public statements.
Trump has defended downplaying the coronavirus' impact, and told reporters on Thursday he "didn't lie."
Later he told a campaign rally in Freeland, Michigan: "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."
The president continued: "When Hitler was bombing London, Churchill, great leader, would oftentimes go to a roof in London and speak. He always spoke with confidence. He said we have to show calmness. Nah, we did it the right way."
Trump seemed to be conflating episodes in which Churchill watched Nazi bombs drop on London from the rooftops of government buildings in Westminster, and his wartime addresses to the British people.
Critics were incredulous at the comparison Trump drew between himself and Churchill by pointing out that while Churchill sought to build the country's morale amid attacks from Nazi Germany, the prime minister was bluntly honest about the dangers and hardship Britain faced.
Trump also invoked President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's quote: "The only thing we have to fear … is fear itself," which Roosevelt said during his 1933 inaugural address as America struggled through the Great Depression.
"America will prevail over the China virus," Trump said, using a racist nickname for the coronavirus. "As Franklin Delano Roosevelt said: 'The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.' We do it very well."
However, Roosevelt had used that line in a speech that also stressed the importance of being honest in tackling national crises.
"This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today," he said at the time.
Trump had admitted to Woodward in February 7 taped interview that the coronavirus was "more deadly than strenuous flus."
- On February 27, Trump told a White House press briefing that the coronavirus "is a flu."
- On March 7, he said about the coronavirus: "We closed it down; we stopped it."
- On March 9, Trump played down the potential impact of the disease, remarking that up to 70,000 Americans died of the common flu every year, comparing the small number of coronavirus deaths in the US at that point, as fact-checking website Snopes confirmed.
Later in March Trump told Woodward: "I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don't want to create a panic."
The US remains the worst-hit country in the pandemic, with more than 6.2 million coronavirus cases and more than 190,000 deaths so far.
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