The New York Times Michael Schmidt’s impromptu interview
with President Donald Trump at his Trump International golf club in West Palm Beach was evidence that Trump has not developed any new habits of embracing facts, grasping reality or curbing his instinct to loiter around absurd and unfounded pretensions.
The audience that the unscripted interview was intended for, as all of them are – is Trump’s continuously shrinking political base. Schmidt apparently was of the view that employing open ended questions colloquially known as “softballs”, would cause Trump to relax his defenses and spontaneously unbutton his thoughts. It worked – even though Schmidt was later criticized for not challenging Trump on obvious falsehoods and exaggerations.
“Stronger than it’s ever been” ? Trump’s approval by the numbers.
Given that we already noted that Trump sought to use the casual setting to bring his voters up to date on his views on topics he believes resonate with them; the first notable comment is his assertion that, “If you look at what’s going on — and in fact, what it’s done is, it’s really angered the base and made the base stronger. My base is stronger than it’s ever been.” Is it? Let’s check out the numbers:
The above chart (Pew Research 12/4/2017) shows the erosion of measured support from various core groups that Trump did well with in the election – contrasting February of this year and early December.
Particularly remarkable is the slide among self described Evangelicals, from a high of 78 percent to this month’s 61 percent. And this is despite Trump’s nonsensical claim that he singlehandedly restored the “Merry Christmas” greeting to its rightful place in our national discourse and the empty calorie gesture of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capitol, while simultaneously renewing the waiver for the second time this year, kicking the can of moving the US Embassy forward yet another six months.
Trump’s imaginary second term and the failing New York Times …
Amusingly, Trump used the interview as an opportunity to repeat a clumsy and reality deficient tirade of his about the New York Times and the non-Trump invested media in general. Trump, it would appear, is under the delusion that he is the glowing orb that the media constellation revolves around:
“But another reason that I’m going to win another four years is because newspapers, television, all forms of media will tank if I’m not there because without me, their ratings are going down the tubes. Without me, The New York Times will indeed be not the failing New York Times, but the failed New York Times. So they basically have to let me win. And eventually, probably six months before the election, they’ll be loving me because they’re saying, ‘Please, please, don’t lose Donald Trump.’ O.K.”
The New York Times may be “failing” Trump’s expectations that it serve as a propaganda vehicle for him and his administration, but it is not a failure or failing from a business perspective – far from it. It’s stock is running at a nine year high; it’s digital subscriptions are up significantly to 2.3 million and has a healthy market capitalization of $3.2 billion. Does Donald Trump believe his own ‘alternative facts’?
Trump’s Fox News ‘intelligence’ briefings
Not a surprise to anyone, Trump is getting his version of foreign developments, not from official DNI and NSC daily intelligence briefings – even when presented in comic book format – but from Fox News:
SCHMIDT: Can you finish your thought on North Korea. What’s going on with China?
TRUMP: I’m disappointed. You know that they found oil going into. …
SCHMIDT: But how recently?
TRUMP: It was very recently. In fact, I hate to say, it was reported this morning, and it was reported on Fox. Oil is going into North Korea. That wasn’t my deal!
Trump did not allow yet another opportunity to pass without reminding us that he is a supremely intelligent and well informed fellow and that he knows the ins and outs of policy better than actual subject matter experts:
TRUMP: But Michael, I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn’t, I couldn’t have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected.
And he could not resist adding that, “I know more about the big bills. … [Inaudible.] … Than any president that’s ever been in office. Whether it’s health care and taxes. Especially taxes.”
The Roy Moore fiasco
Trump sought to shake off the lingering aroma of the Roy Moore debacle by attempting to pass off a fictitious version of events:
“I endorsed him [Alabama senate candidate Roy Moore]. It became a much closer race because of my endorsement. People don’t say that. They say, ‘Oh, Donald Trump lost.’ I didn’t lose, I brought him up a lot.”
Aside from there being no documentation from polling that indicates Trump had any beneficial effect on Moore’s situation, the facts (as confirmed by the Alabama Secretary of State’s certification of election results) are that Moore lost by 22,000 votes in a state where GOP candidates for federal office historically win by wide double digit margins.
Trump tries to pawn off the excuse that had the primary candidate he endorsed (Luther Strange), been in the race, the results would have certainly been different. “I was for Strange, and I brought Strange up 20 points. Just so you understand. When I endorsed him, he was in fifth place. He went way up. Almost 20 points.” Not unexpectedly, Strange could not have been “in fifth place” in the primary, due to the inconvenient fact that there were only three GOP candidates running.
Also, typical here is Trump’s predilection to take full credit for positive results, but disassociate his role in any failures.
Trump again invokes the hoax
The narrative about Russian interference in the presidential election and any possible coordination with them by the Trump campaign, is in Trump’s estimation, a “hoax” for the reason that the Democrat party ordinarily has a lock on the Electoral College system in presidential elections.
“They made the Russian story up as a hoax, as a ruse, as an excuse for losing an election that in theory Democrats should always win with the electoral college. The electoral college is so much better suited to the Democrats.”
Here Trump endeavors to present himself as the super candidate that knocked all of the ordinary election planets out of their ordinary alignment. Only a couple of problems with it. One is that had only 40,000 votes gone to his opponent in three states, Trump would not only have lost the popular vote, but the electoral vote as well. Moreover, in the last 141 years, only two GOP presidents have ended up with lower electoral college vote tallies than Trump – Richard Nixon in 1968 and George W. Bush.
Of his opponent, Ms. Clinton, Trump says, “I won because I campaigned properly and she didn’t. She campaigned for the popular vote. I campaigned for the electoral college.” There is no substantiation for this and neither Clinton or her campaign have made such a contention. Bill Clinton chided his wife’s campaign for not focusing on Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, but he never said she “campaigned for the popular vote” or has any other recognized political analysts.
In keeping with his tradition of re-framing the authentic narrative of anything with alternative facts, Trump persisted ad infinitum denying any evidence of collusion, while simultaneously proposing that it was the Democrat party that was really in bed with Moscow. “There was tremendous collusion on behalf of the Russians and the Democrats. There was no collusion with respect to my campaign.”
As the Washington Post pointed out, The FBI, CIA and National Security Agency are unanimous in their assessment that, in the words of their joint statement on the matter, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government “aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him.”
Trump’s Super Powers prevail in coal country …
Trump boasted that he singlehandedly saved coal in West Virginia – “I’m the one that saved coal. I’m the one that created jobs. You know West Virginia is doing fantastically now.”
The fly in that ointment is that it is nonsensical on the face. The single reason that West Virginia’s GDP has had a recent bounce is a simple one – prices for metallurgical coal and natural gas have been on an upswing on the commodities markets. Trump’s puffery and pixie dust is beside the point. It’s the markets, stupid.
There is so much more word salad and hallucinatory rambling from Trump that the Times had to abbreviate the report and transcript, but Trump does still believe that if he preferred, he could make any changes with regard to Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the Justice Department’s handling of the Russian investigation he wishes. Trump also blew kisses to charged and indicted former campaign manager, Paul Manafort – for what reason, is anyone’s guess.
It’s also anyone’s guess whether Trump fully realizes that he’s a president under the constraints of the rule of law, not a monarch or whether he’s just playing to the fantasies of his supporters, who think it’s time for a fascist of their liking to assert his despotism. To quote a standard Trump phrase, “we’ll see what happens”.