President Donald Trump has a very simple worldview: The end justifies the means – and the only acceptable end is victory.
Never has that win-at-all-costs philosophy been on more vivid display than in a back-and-forth with “60 Minutes” anchor Lesley Stahl during an interview that ran on Sunday night. The conversation focused on Christine Blasey Ford, her allegations against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and Trump’s mocking of her at a campaign rally in Mississippi. Here it is, in full (bolding is mine):
STAHL: Professor Blasey Ford got before the Senate and – and was asked what’s the worst moment. And she said, “When the two boys laughed at me, at my expense.”
TRUMP: OK, fine.
STAHL: And then I watched you mimic her and thousands of people were laughing at her.
TRUMP: They can do what they – I – I will tell you this. The way now Justice Kavanaugh was treated has become a big factor in the midterms. Have you seen what’s gone on with the polls?
STAHL: But did you have to –
TRUMP: Well, I think she was treated with great respect, I’ll – I’ll –
STAHL: And – but –
TRUMP: be honest with you.
STAHL: but do you think – you treated her with –
TRUMP: There are those that think she shouldn’t have –
STAHL: Do you think you treated her with respect?
TRUMP: I think so, yeah. I did.
STAHL: But you seem to be saying that she lied.
TRUMP: W – you know what? I’m not gonna get into it because we won. It doesn’t matter. We won.
Fourteen words. And a perfect encapsulation of Trumpism. He is the living, breathing epitome of the old cliche that winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. Trump sees – and has always seen – every moment in his life, whether it’s a business deal, a TV show, as fundamentally a battle in which a winner and a loser will be determined. There’s no gray area for Trump. The world is divided into people who win and people who lose. And he is very much one of the former.
“My whole life is about winning,” he told The Washington Post in December 2015. “I always win. I win at golf. I’m a club champion many times at different clubs. I win at golf. I can sink the three-footer on the 18th hole when others can’t. My whole life is about winning. I don’t lose often. I almost never lose.”
On the campaign trail, he developed a now-familiar riff about, well, winning. Here’s one example from a speech in Albany, New York, in April 2016:
“We’re going to start winning again. We’re going to win so much. We’re going to win at every level. We are going to win economically. We are going to win with the economy. We’re going to win with the military. We’re going to win with health care and our veterans. We’re going to win with every single fact. We’re going to win so much you may even get tired of winning. And you’ll say, ‘Please, please, it’s too much winning. We can’t take it anymore, Mr. President, it’s too much.” And I’ll say, ‘No, it isn’t. We have to keep winning. We have to win more.’ We’re going to win more. We’re going to win so much.”
Short version: I win.
During the campaign, this riff worked for Trump because it was seen by lots of people as aspirational. The not-so-subtle pitch from Trump went like this: I win. Do you want to win? If so, you should vote for me and we can all win.
That was, of course, a vast oversimplification. But it was also campaign rhetoric, which is not exactly known for its strict adherence to fact.
What Trump is doing in the clip above with Stahl is far more insidious and dangerous. He’s concluding that whatever he said about Ford must have been right because Kavanaugh is now on the Supreme Court. Watch how Trump reacts when Stahl tries to nail him down on whether he was purposely making fun of Ford.
First, he seems to blame the audience for laughing (“They can do what they … “) before pivoting to note that “the way Justice Kavanaugh was treated has become a big factor in the midterms.” Uh, what?
The second time Stahl asks a similar question – pointing out that Trump’s mockery of Ford “seem(ed) to be saying that she lied,” Trump goes to his ace in the hole: “I’m not gonna get into it because we won. It doesn’t matter. We won.”
What, exactly, is Trump saying doesn’t matter? Whether he thought Ford was lying? Whether he was purposefully making fun of her to score political points? Why the crowd in Mississippi was laughing?
Go back and read the full exchange. I did. A bunch of times. And it sounds a lot like Trump is saying, essentially, that if you win, anything you do to win is entirely justified by your winning. That sort of reductive logic leads down a very dangerous – and, unfortunately, well-worn – path.