When a politician holds a news conference, he or she normally has a specific message to deliver. But Donald Trump is no conventional politician — and his operatic, free-form, hour-and-a-quarter-long news conference on Thursday showed it. (Not that more evidence was needed.)
The ostensible purpose was to announce the name of Trump’s new choice as secretary of Labor after his initial nominee withdrew amid a torrent of embarrassing charges (hiring undocumented immigrants, spousal abuse). The larger goal, presumably, was to push back against the growing narrative of a White House in chaos after Trump fired his national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
“I turn on the TV, open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos. Chaos!” Trump said. “Yet it is the exact opposite. This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine.”
The way to prove that case, for a conventional politician, would be to list all the campaign promises he’s fulfilling: jobs created, immigration rules toughened, economic programs introduced, Obamacare replaced.
And Trump did that, reciting the list of companies that have announced plans to add jobs in the United States since his inauguration. “There will be many, many more,” he promised.
But on most of his priority list, he didn’t have much to report. His immigration order has been blocked by federal judges. His economic proposals haven’t been unveiled. Obamacare has been neither repealed nor replaced.
Then there was the problem he had to handle: His decision to fire Flynn, and what it said about his campaign’s purported relationship with Russia.
“Russia is a ruse,” he said. “I have nothing to do with Russia. To the best of my knowledge, no person that I deal with does.”
So were the leaks about Flynn and his contacts with Russia “fake news”?
“The leaks are absolutely real,” he said. “The news is fake, because so much of the news is fake.”
And almost any question served as a signal for the president to inveigh against his favorite targets: Democrats, leakers and his critics in the media.
Asked about racist comments and protest signs, he said many of them were “written by our opponents” to discredit him.
“It won't be my people,” he said. “It will be the people on the other side to anger people like you.”
And he gave a correspondent for his least-favorite television network, CNN, a lengthy disquisition on unfairness and ratings.
“I watched this morning a couple of the networks. And I have to say, ‘Fox & Friends’ in the morning, they're very honorable people,” the president said.
But when it comes to CNN, he said, “the tone is such hatred.”
“You look at your show that goes on at 10 o'clock in the evening,” the viewer in chief said, referring to “CNN Tonight” with Don Lemon. “The panel is almost always exclusive anti-Trump. The good news is he doesn't have good ratings.”
“Tomorrow, they will say, Donald Trump rants and raves at the press. I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you. You know, you're dishonest people,” he said. “I’m not ranting and raving. I love this. I'm having a good time.”
And that, in the end, was the message: Your president is not ranting and raving — no matter what they say.