President Trump repeatedly had been asked whether it was appropriate to hold a campaign rally in Pennsylvania on Wednesday night as Hurricane Michael turned large swaths of the Florida Panhandle into rubble. The timing was unfortunate, he said, but thousands of supporters were counting on him.
On Thursday, Trump took his “the show must go on” credo a step further, underscoring as few days have just what a reality-TV presidency he’s directing.
As the Southeast began picking through the destruction, Trump sought to keep himself at the center of the conversation — first dialing into “Fox & Friends” and then hosting a bizarre public visit in the Oval Office with music mogul Kanye West.
He led off the day with the morning call to his favorite television show, holding forth for a full 47 minutes and surprising even the show’s hosts with his reluctance to end the call. Just as Fox News, like other cable networks, was returning to the storm coverage, the Trump show cut in again — for his lunch meeting with Jim Brown, the legendary NFL star, and West, who delivered one of the most erratic monologues from the White House since an embattled Richard Nixon talked to the portraits.
The president’s attention-grabbing performances came as Fox has cut back its nonstop coverage of his prime-time political rallies, denying the president one of his most reliable platforms. It was West, however, who stole this show.
Donning one of Trump’s red “Make America Great Again” hats that he said made him feel “like Superman,” West delivered a lengthy stream-of-consciousness rant that included profanity, a provocative discussion of race, fulsome praise for the president, whom he called “bro,” and an assertion that time itself does not exist.
“I don’t answer questions that are simple soundbites. You are tasting a fine wine that has multiple notes to it,” West said to a reporter’s question. “You better play 4-D chess with me like it’s ‘Minority Report,’ because it ain’t that simple. It’s complex.”
Even Trump, accustomed to being the unpredictable one, seemed baffled. “That was quite something,” he said.
By early afternoon, Trump had made four appearances that were carried, at least in part, on one of the cable networks. However, the hundreds of thousands of people in Hurricane Michael’s path were without power and probably unable to watch his performances.
After promising on Fox that the hurricane recovery would “go fast,” Trump talked about ally Saudi Arabia and reports that it may have killed a dissident journalist (“I don’t like it,” he reiterated with little elaboration), the midterm election, Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s undocumented claims of Native American heritage, West’s imminent visit, prison reform, the Federal Reserve, new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and more.
Trump even found time to heap some over-the-top praise on congressional allies who are working to protect him from the Russia investigation.
“If this turns out as everyone thinks it will, Devin Nunes should get the Medal of Honor,” Trump said of the Republican representative from Tulare, who has been among his foremost advocates against the investigation headed by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.
The morning after a steep slide in the stock markets, Trump again criticized the Fed, blaming rising interest rates and thereby continuing to break with presidents’ long-standing practice of respecting the independence of the central bank.
When a Fox hosted noted that Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions opposed aspects of the prison changes that the president, along with West and Brown, were espousing, Trump took yet another of his frequent jabs at his attorney general. If Sessions tries to stand in his way, the president said, “he gets overruled by me, because I make the decision, he doesn’t.”
Asked if he would fire Sessions and Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general overseeing the Russia investigation, immediately after the midterm election, Trump replied, “Well, I actually get along well with Rod.”
He predicted partisan discord if Democrats won control of the House, saying the sides would have to “fight it out,” and noted that some Democrats have already threatened to impeach Kavanaugh, just days after he was sworn in.
The one glimmer of opportunity for bipartisan action he noted was infrastructure spending, an issue that both sides have long talked about though congressional Republicans remain mostly unenthusiastic.
Trump made similar comments after his election yet has not made sustained efforts to court Democrats on the issue since then. Now, hatred for the president among liberals has made many Democratic lawmakers reluctant to work with him.
“Can we get along? Maybe,” Trump said. “There’s something that can bring us together.”
Trump also repeated that he would confront Democrats after the election over the contentious issue of a southern border wall.
When “Fox & Friends” host Steve Doocy finally found an opening to end the marathon, he did so with some advice for the president: “Go run the country.”
3:25 p.m.: The article was updated with details of Trump’s meeting with Kanye West and Jim Brown.
The article was originally published at 8 a.m.