‘Not in Our Country’: Mike Francesa Defends His Anti-Trump Coronavirus Rant
The sports-radio icon still plans to vote for Trump in November, he told The Daily Beast, but could barely contain his fury over the president’s handling of the pandemic.
For a moment, it seemed as if President Donald Trump had lost one of his most ardent supporters: Mike Francesa, the New York sports talk-radio titan.
In an impassioned monologue delivered during his afternoon Radio.com show, Francesa thundered away. “We’re watching one thing happen in our city on the 11 o’clock news every night,” he said.
“We’re watching people die, and now we know people who died. And we’re not seeing one or two people die now in our neighborhood. We’re seeing them die by the tens and twenties by the day.”
The people in desperate need of supplies, from health-care workers and doctors to cops and firefighters, were going lacking. He’d been publicly critical of the response to the outbreak of COVID-19 before. But Monday’s briefing was the final straw for Francesa.
“So don’t give me the MyPillow guy doing a song-and-dance up here on a Monday afternoon when people are dying in Queens,” he howled, referring to how the president trotted out right-wing pillow mogul Mike Lindell, his pal, to implore Americans to read the Bible. “Get the stuff made, get the stuff where it needs to go, and get the boots on the ground! Treat this like the crisis it is!”
Trump’s suggestion that the press should try and confirm his evidence-free conspiracy theory regarding the theft of masks in New York City hospitals set Francesa off, too.
“You go investigate that! You have your military, your FEMA investigate that! That’s your job! You’re in charge of this!” said Francesa. “If this is a war, they’re stealing your supplies, what do you do? You tell the media to go investigate it? What, and get back to you in six weeks or two months, as more people die on a daily basis? That’s what’s wrong here. There’s a disconnect.”
The two-minute screed marked a stark departure from Francesa’s other forays into politics.
Previously, the bombastic and beloved radio personality who backed Trump during the 2016 campaign, offered a full-throated defense of the president during the Mueller investigation, and hand-waved away the idea that the president is an unreconstructed bigot.
Reached at his home in Manhasset, New York, Francesa promised he still plans to pull the lever for Trump in November—same as in 2016. “I voted for the president. I’m still a supporter of his.”
That support doesn’t mean Trump should be spared from criticism, the sports talker said, nor does he feel the need to remain in lockstep with the president at all times. “In this case, I really just think they’ve been slow to move,” said Francesa.
And anyone familiar with Francesa’s work knows he’s fundamentally incapable of holding back when sufficiently rankled. But the version of Francesa that spoke with The Daily Beast on Wednesday morning was different.
All of the familiar talk-show cadences honed during a career yakking about sports—one in which he and his former partner, Chris “Mad Dog” Russo became the industry’s gold standard—were there. But the volume was turned way down. Time and time again, he made it clear that in no way did he consider himself an expert. Unlike, say, his unwillingness to back down when a caller insisted an ex-pro ballplayer named Al Alburquerque exists. (He does. Francesa disagreed.)
On the phone, Francesa came across measured and chastened, always making sure to preface statements with “I think” or “to me.” The mounting bodies in the greater New York area have hit home. “We’re losing a lot of people,” he said. Francesa has spent a great deal of time reading up on the global pandemic, but beyond staying at home, making sure to maintain social distance, and safeguard the people we care about, he said, “we’re helpless."
(As of Wednesday morning, COVID-19 had killed 2,277 in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. New York City hospitals will no longer test anyone who does not require hospitalization, regardless of whether or not they are showing symptoms.)
Francesa’s response to Trump’s claim that 200,000 total deaths would represent a positive outcome? “Not in our country. That’s not good. That’s not what America’s about,” he said, his voice rising. “I can’t live with that. I don’t want to hear that. We’ve gotta do better than that. That’s all there is to it.”
Francesa’s main point of contention, as he outlined on his Monday show, was the lack of a rapid, coordinated national response. Specifically, he hoped the president would make greater use of the armed forces because of their ability to maintain the supply lines and deliver the much-needed medical supplies. The outbreak “is an act of God. it is a force of nature,” he said. “I just think our reaction has to be as overwhelming as the crisis is."
Some of those actions were beginning to take place, Francesa noted. The Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on the West Side of Manhattan has been transformed into a hospital; tents are being erected in Central Park; and the USNS Comfort arrived on Monday to help care for non-COVID-19 patients.
“I would like to see—and what I’ve been saying for weeks—is I would just like to see a response that we would see if this were a hurricane, if this were an earthquake, if this were a natural disaster, because it kind of is,” said Francesa. “I just thought we should see that from the beginning.”
Luckily, no one in Francesa’s family has tested positive so far. “Thank God,” he said. Like many others, he does know people who are sick, including a doctor who was treating COVID-19 patients and passed away.
When asked about the National Football League’s recent announcement that they planned to go ahead with the 2020-21 season, some of the old Francesa fire returned. “The NFL usually isn’t very bright when it comes to talking about issues,” he said. “They’re usually pretty dumb in that area. They should just keep their mouth closed and feel lucky they're not in the middle of this.” (Another ethically and logistically unworkable idea being floated by the league: spending a chunk of its vast wealth to construct its own personal bio-dome somewhere in America that’s COVID-19 free, more or less. Really.)
The International Olympics Committee, too, dragged its feet for weeks, insisting the games would go on, before finally relenting. Though he described himself as not a “big Olympic guy,” Francesa wasn’t surprised: “In terms of security and travel I didn’t think that was even remotely possible, to be honest with you.”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, on the other hand, earned Francesa’s praise. “I think [Silver] is a national leader when it comes to a lot of these issues. I think he’s got a lot of savvy and a real touch when it comes to these things,” said Francesa. “When he canceled [the 2019-20 NBA season], I think he really started the movement towards everybody backing off” and taking COVID-19 seriously.
Asked if his friend, the president, had sought out his counsel, “God, no,” the radio star affectionately known as “The Sports Pope” said with the same dismissive air as if someone had suggested trading away Yankees star Gleyber Torres for a player to be named later. “Don’t be silly. He’s got far better people to call than me, that’s for sure.” Per ABC News, Trump recently contacted Alex Rodriguez, the retired MLB great, to talk about the government’s response. On Twitter, Trump labeled the reported confab with A-Rod “More Fake News!”
Initially, Francesa was unaware at how much coverage he was receiving, until he caught a glimpse of his rant on TV. On MSNBC, pundits speculated that perhaps Francesa was the canary in the coal mine—a normally apolitical public figure openly tearing into the president. Maybe, they speculated, his raw, heartfelt plea would be the first of many Trump supporters to follow suit.
But Francesa doesn’t think he has the ability to sway anyone, even the percentage of the population refusing to accept the horrors that are to come. “I think anybody who does not realize this is a national disaster is clueless,” he said. Ideally, the national response to COVID-19 could be walled off from politics. That kind of framing is “wrong,” Francesa asserted. But given that it’s an election year, “everything is political. When you’re president, things are thrust upon you that you didn't cause.”
“They’re yours though, and how you deal with them,” he continued, punctuating each single-syllable word for emphasis, “defines your presidency. And this will define the president’s presidency. There is no question.”
Should the federal government marshal all available resources, he said, the odds of the president’s re-election go through the roof. If not and this is a “nightmare,” Trump will lose, Francesa predicted. The 2020 race would have been close, virus or not, and is going to be determined by the same set of swing states as the last time around.
Still, “That’s not what the issue is right now. The issue is to stop people from dying.”
In the interim, it’s a question of waiting and small doses of hope, Francesa said.
“We’re all living through something we've never seen before or have any clue with. You wake up every day and hope the next day’s going to change. So far, nothing has changed.”