Donald Trump’s first news conference in nearly six months — and the first since his stunning November upset victory — was, as you’d expect, a disaster.
Just not for Trump.
It was a disaster for the press, sure. It was certainly a disaster for anyone who believes the dignity of the office counts for something. But for Trump, it was everything he could have hoped for, and not only because he got the chance to publicly double down on likening U.S. spy agencies to Nazis.
In fact, if there’s any lesson to be taken from the day — other than the value in future presidents-elect bringing their own cheering sections along with them — it’s that Trump should do these things weekly.
There’s nothing short of a rally that allows Trump to be so, well, Trump-like. And, let’s face it, being Trump-like is, for better or worse, what made Trump president. And, from Trump’s perspective, news conferences hold so many advantages. You don’t have to even leave the building. You do the news conference, you bring along your staff to jeer reporters, you get an intern to stack a bunch of papers on a table (like so many Trump steaks) as a prop to symbolize all the paper you needed to work out a phony ethics deal with lawyers, you do a you’re-fired joke with the kids and then you break for lunch.
The long-anticipated news conference was set up to be your standard politician-under-fire affair, with the president-elect being forced to explain an alleged scandal involving alleged blackmail and alleged Russian hotel sex, to explain how he could possibly avoid conflicts of interest, not to mention something called an emolument, without actually selling a company he’ll never part with, and, finally, to defend his billionaire cabinet choices and his anti-science science appointees.
I mean, it was all there. And in the end? It was Trump – the fake news impresario –accusing the media of promulgating fake news (Buzzfeed’s decision to print the unsubstantiated Trump dossier gave him the opening) and getting into a shouting match with a CNN reporter who dared to try to ask a question. “You’re fake news,” Trump told CNN’s Jim Acosta.
It’s the new normal, but what else could it be? Trump has terrible poll numbers, the worst in modern times for a president-elect about to take office, but they don’t bother him. He won.
Trump is making promises he can’t keep. Mexicans paying for the wall. Simultaneous Obamacare repeal and replacement. No conflict of interest if he gives the company to the boys to run. None of this bothers him. He won.
This exchange between NBC News’s Hallie Jackson and Trump was probably the most significant of the day. She asked if he would finally release his tax returns in order to clear up where he might have conflicts of interest, particularly where they might involve Russia.
“You know, the only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters, O.K.?” Trump said. “They’re the only ones who ask.”
“You don’t think the American public is concerned about it?” she asked.
“I don’t think so,” Trump said. ”I won.”
And so it is that Trump replays that victory — the one in which he lost the popular vote by 2.8 million — at every public event and will do so for the foreseeable future. That’s what you do to avoid answering questions about, say, whether your people had contact with Russian emissaries during the campaign. Trump was asked the question. He just didn’t answer it. The people aren’t interested because, you know, he won.
What he did say was that the salacious bits in the so-called dossier — which wasn’t a dossier at all, but rather unsubstantiated oppo-research collected by an agent working for Trump’s opponents during the campaign — couldn’t be true because, as Trump said, he’s a well-known germaphobe. Was that a punch line? Was it just the kind of thing that our president-elect says?
What Trump does do is to accuse, with no evidence, the nation’s intelligence agencies of leaking the dossier, which, he bizarrely claimed, was what they did back in Nazi Germany, while accusing CNN of publishing the dossier, which it did not.
And in a remarkable piece of business — an SNL-style piece of business — Trump explained why he’d never be caught in that kind of situation. Not because of the sex. But because someone could be watching.
“In those (hotel) rooms,” he said he warns those who travel with him, “you have cameras in the strangest places. You can’t see them and you won’t know. You better be careful or you’ll be watching yourself on nightly television.”
Trump did make news by finally admitting that it was probably the Russians who hacked the DNC computers in a bid to help Trump win the election, but he dismissed it as no big deal, saying, “If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks, that’s an asset not a liability.”
The press has spent a lot of time now trying to figure out how to cover Trump, how to fact-check him in real time, how to challenge his Trumpisms, how to deal with his tweets, but the problem is there seems to be no good way to cover Trump.
Take his bizarre point that he turned down a $2 billion business deal from Dubai over the weekend. He offered this tidbit to show that he’s out of the deal-making business, even though he insists he doesn’t have to be — that, if he chose, he could run his business and still be president.
Now it might leave you wondering how it is that the $2 billion deal was even being discussed, but you don’t wonder. And there’s no way to successfully fact-check. Either it happened — which is strange enough — or it didn’t happen, which would be even stranger.
But how much stranger does it get than Russian sex and Nazis? Just wait for the sequel to find out.
Photo illustration by DonkeyHotey, Flickr: Creative Commons