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How Donald Trump completely whiffed on his debate mask answer

President Donald Trump said a lot of misleading and irresponsible things during the 90-minute first presidential debate on Tuesday night. From refusing to condemn the Proud Boys to repeating his false claims that the election results will be rigged, Trump showed, yet again, that he is willing to say and do anything to help his political standing — no matter the impact on the country.



US President Donald Trump holds a face mask as he speaks during the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio on September 29, 2020.


© Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images
US President Donald Trump holds a face mask as he speaks during the first presidential debate at the Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio on September 29, 2020.

But the most dangerous thing Trump may have said on Tuesday night — in terms of actually endangering the lives of people who were watching — was his continued skepticism of mask-wearing and mockery of former Vice President Joe Biden’s regular use of masks.

Here’s the exchange between Trump and moderator Chris Wallace:

Wallace: President Trump, you have begun to increasingly question the effectiveness of masks as a disease preventer. And in fact, recently you have cited the issue of — of waiters touching their masks and touching plates. Are you questioning the efficacy of masks?

Trump: No, I think that masks are OK. You have to understand, if you look — I mean, I have a mask right here. I put a mask on, you know, when I think I need it.

Tonight, as an example, everybody’s had a test and you’ve had social distancing and all of the things that you have to, but —

Biden: Just like your rallies.

Trump: — I wear masks when needed. When needed, I wear masks.

Wallace: OK, let me ask —

Trump: I don’t have — I don’t wear masks like him. Every time you see him, he’s got a mask. He could be speaking 200 feet away from them and he shows up with the biggest mask I’ve ever seen.

So, yeah.

A quick fact check before I go any further: Trump’s contention that masks weren’t needed at the debate because “everybody’s had a test and you’ve had social distancing and all of the things that you have to” is not right. Audience members were required to wear masks throughout the debate. But several guests — including, reportedly, members of the President’s family — did not abide by those rules.

Now to the broader point: The President of the United States, offered the opportunity to end his mask skepticism with 70 million-plus people watching, could muster only that masks were “OK.” What a ringing endorsement! That’s sure to change a lot of minds!

But it wasn’t just that lukewarm comment on mask-wearing.

Trump went on to note that he actually had a mask (in his jacket pocket) and that “I put a mask on, you know, when I think I need it.” When, exactly, is that? And how is Trump, who is not a medical doctor or an infectious disease expert, the