President Donald Trump wasn’t scheduled to talk to the press on Wednesday. He spent the morning at the White House and was set to jet off to a fundraiser in Dallas this evening.
Except that as he walked to Marine One, which was idling on the White House lawn, Trump stopped to take a few shouted questions from reporters. Then a few more. And a few more. He spent better than 15 minutes talking about Niger, La David Johnson, Jeff Flake, Ivy League schools, his memory, standing ovations, “my generals,” uranium and Watergate.
It was, in a word, amazing. And, before Trump came into office, totally unprecedented.
Trying to piece together a single line of thought from what was an incredibly wide-ranging set of questions and answers, is impossible. So, below are eight thoughts I jotted down while watching Trump in real time.
In the wake of The Washington Post’s reporting last night that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee helped pay for former British spy Christopher Steele’s work to compile a dossier on Trump, the President made clear that he will use that as a cudgel against all comers questioning his campaign’s ties to Russia.
1. Trump is going to use – and use – the news of the Clinton campaign funding the anti-Trump dossier
“Hillary Clinton always denied it,” Trump said of the dossier funding. “The Democrats always denied it, and now only because it is going to come out in a court case, they said yes, they did it, they admitted it, and they are embarrassed by it. I think it is a disgrace, it just really, it is a very sad commentary on politics in this country.” He added later that the story about Democratic funding for the dossier was “Watergate, modern age.”
2. Trump l-o-v-e-s to pretend he’s never heard of people he doesn’t like
In Trump’s world, there is nothing worse than being unknown. It means you don’t matter. And so, his greatest putdown is to claim that he has never heard of people attacking him. Trump said Wednesday that he didn’t even know who Sen. Jeff Flake was before Flake wrote a book critical of Trump. And, Trump added, the first time he saw Flake on TV, he thought the Arizona Republican was Democrat. BOOM! ROASTED! (Note bene: Donald Trump was a Democrat until the late 2000s; Flake has a 97% score with the American Conservative Union.)
3. Trump is uniquely focused on proving how smart he is
I’ve written before about Trump’s obsession with IQ – his and others. Intelligence – or the perception that people (read: reporters) don’t think he is as smart as he knows he is – is never far from Trump’s mind. “People don’t understand, I went to an Ivy League college. I was a nice student,” Trump told reporters Wednesday. “I did very well. I’m a very intelligent person.” Later, pointing to his head, he added: “One of the great memories of all time.”
4. The 2016 election ended 351 days ago
Trump is still re-living it! Out of nowhere, he managed to note that no one gave him a chance to win the Electoral College but he won anyway! And with 306 electoral votes! It’s true. I even found this map!
5. Trump feels very possessive about the military
Trump referred to “my generals” and “my military” when referring to their toughness and tenacity. Interestingly, he was less willing to take ownership of the military action in Niger that left four American soldiers dead; that, he noted, was a decision made by the generals. But, what about “my generals”???
6. Trump will never admit he was wrong. Or apologize.
When asked about a controversial phone call he had with Myeshia Johnson, the widow of La David Johnson, a solider killed in action in Niger, Trump again argued he had done everything right – all the way down to clearly remembering La David’s name. “I was really nice to her. I respect her, I respect her family, I certainly respect La David, who I, by the way, called La David right from the beginning,” Trump said. “They put a chart in front, La David, it says La David Johnson.” 10 out of 10. A+. Nailed it. Perfect every time.
7. Trump is a BIG fan of the media
Forget all the “fake news” stuff. Trump says that because he knows it appeals to his base. Trump’s willingness to talk to reporters – and the clear joy he takes in the back and forth – shows you how he really feels about the press. No past president – not one – would have spent 15 minutes taking questions from reporters during what was supposed to be just a walk to Marine One.
“I think 3-5 q’s is good,” tweeted former Bush White House press secretary Dana Perino. “Especially in front of a helicopter that’s ready to go. Gotta feed the press in bits! Not all you can eat buffets.”
8. Trump digs a cliffhanger
Asked about whether he had settled on a pick to be the next chairman of the Federal Reserve, Trump said he had one name in mind but wouldn’t share it. He added that it would be a “surprise.” Always remember that Trump is a product of New York City tabloid media and reality TV. And both of those mediums are big on leaving the audience wanting more, teasing out the possibility of a big reveal in the not-too-distant future. All of that is done in pursuit of keeping eyeballs on them. And Trump is in the business of keeping eyeballs on him. Always.