WASHINGTON ― President Donald Trump’s “fine-tuned machine” of a presidency is already off to a better start than any other.
Reports that his campaign was in continuous contact with the foreign government that actively helped him get elected are “fake news.”
And any perception that things aren’t going swimmingly are the fault of dishonest reporters, Senate Democrats and federal judges.
That’s the world according to Trump, who staged a 77-minute news conference Thursday that was equal parts petulant, combative and downright incoherent ― his second chaotic question-and-answer session in as many days and his first solo news conference since taking office Jan. 20. The performance may have been enough to scare off his pick to replace Michael Flynn as national security adviser.
“The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people,” Trump said, reading from prepared text prior to taking questions. “Tremendous disservice. We have to talk to find out what’s going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.”
Trump lashed out at news outlets for reporting that several of his campaign aides were contacting Russian intelligence agencies while those agencies were working to hurt Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump win ― but danced around direct questions about whether he knew of such contacts.
When asked for a yes or no answer, Trump answered: “Russia is a ruse…. Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Haven’t made a phone call to Russia in years. Don’t speak to people from Russia. Not that I wouldn’t. I just have nobody to speak to.”
He blamed an increase in anti-Semitic acts since his election not on his supporters but on those on “the other side” who want to make his supporters look bad, and he angrily shut down a Jewish reporter for trying to follow up on that topic: “Quiet. Quiet. Quiet.”
He suggested to an African-American reporter that she set up a meeting between him and members of the Congressional Black Caucus. He re-litigated, for reasons that remain unclear, one of his favorite campaign points: that Clinton had received questions in advance of a debate during the Democratic primaries last year.
And, as is typical with Trump, he maintained a loose grasp on actual facts.
At one point, for example, he claimed he had won the largest Electoral College victory since Ronald Reagan. In reality, his was third smallest margin since Reagan’s re-election, better than only George W. Bush’s two wins. Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama won a total of five elections with more electoral votes than Trump.
When this was pointed out to him, Trump claimed: “Well, I don’t know, I was given that information. I was given ― I actually, I’ve seen that information around. But it was a very substantial victory, do you agree with that?”
Trump’s poll numbers have been sinking since taking office, with his approval number falling into the 30s in a new Pew Research survey released Thursday.
Throughout his campaign, Trump was fixated on his poll numbers, which offers a possible rationale for the hastily called news conference. It had not been on any schedule released to the press this week, and it was announced by Trump himself late Thursday morning.
Trump cited a different poll ― the historically Republican-friendly Rasmussen survey, which showed Trump at 55 percent approval (but among likely voters for an election 45 months away) ― and then went on to describe how well he has been doing.
“Again, I say it: There has never been a presidency that’s done so much in such a short period of time.”
“This last month has represented an unprecedented degree of action on behalf of the great citizens of our country. Again, I say it: There has never been a presidency that’s done so much in such a short period of time,” Trump said.
He then blamed the chaotic implementation of his executive order banning travel to the U.S. by citizens of seven majority-Muslim nations ― which was written almost entirely within the White House with little input from the agencies that would be tasked with enforcing it ― on a federal judge in Washington state who blocked it and the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California, which has upheld the block.
“That circuit is in chaos and that circuit is frankly in turmoil,” Trump said. “Let me tell you about the travel ban. We had a very smooth rollout of the travel ban. But we had a bad court.”
And if there were any problems in getting his own agencies up to speed, he said, that was the fault of the Democrats in the Senate, who have objected to most of his Cabinet appointments, including Andy Puzder, Trump’s initial pick for labor secretary, who withdrew Wednesday. Trump nominated Alexander Acosta for the labor post on Thursday.
“This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine, despite the fact that I can’t get my Cabinet approved,” Trump said, adding later: “So, if the Democrats who have ― all you have to do is look at where they are right now. The only thing they can do is delay because they screwed things up royally, believe me.”