President Trump struck a note of cheer after he arrived at the podium in the White House’s East Room on Wednesday. “It was a big day, yesterday,” he said. “Incredible day. And last night, the Republican Party defied history to expand our Senate majority while significantly beating expectations in the House . . . We did this in spite of a very dramatic fundraising disadvantage . . . and very hostile media coverage, to put it mildly.” He cited a bunch of historical data to shore up the notion that the results of Tuesday’s midterm elections provided a grand endorsement of his leadership.
“The history will really see what a good job we did in the final weeks,” he said.
Given his exploits on the national political front, Trump might have shown the country a happy and playful demeanor during the prolonged Q-and-A session that followed his predictably self-aggrandizing monologue.
Instead: “I think you should let me run the country, you run CNN and, if you did it well, your ratings would be much better,” said Trump to Jim Acosta, CNN’s chief White House correspondent, who had the nerve to contest the president’s characterization of the caravan of Central American migrants as an “invasion.” “That’s enough. That’s enough. That’s enough,” he said to Acosta, who was trying to ask a followup on the Russia investigation. A press wrangler attempted to wrest the microphone from Acosta, who maintained his grip on the device.
“CNN should be ashamed of itself, having you working for them,” Trump then said to Acosta. “You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN. . . . You are a very rude person. The way you treat Sarah [Sanders, the White House press secretary] is horrible and the way you treat other people are horrible.”
In typical pass-the-buck fashion, the White House found another questioner, Peter Alexander of NBC News. Feeling a need to show some solidarity with Acosta, Alexander vouched for his hard work. “I’m not a big fan of yours either, to be honest,” said Trump to Alexander.
At this point, Acosta stood up again and asked something to the president. “Just sit down, please. When you report fake news, which you do a lot, you are the enemy of the people,” said Trump.
Tone, set. Throughout the balance of the nearly 90-minute event, Trump repeatedly berated reporters for asking about his work, as if intent on putting a literal spin on the term “bully pulpit.” When one reporter — Yamiche Alcindor of PBS NewsHour — asked about possible racist meaning behind the president’s self-identification as a “nationalist,” Trump scolded, “That’s such a racist question. . . . You have nationalists, you have globalists. I also love the world. . . . Excuse me, but to say that, what you said, is so insulting to me, it’s a very terrible thing that you said.”
Some “victory lap.”
When Yahoo reporter Hunter Walker asked about reports that the president had made racist remarks, Trump snapped that everyone would know about it if he had. When Walker tried to pose a followup, Trump said, “Quiet, quiet, quiet . . . See, when you talk about division, it’s people like this that cause division.” So Trump asked Walker what news organization he worked for. He said Yahoo. “I hope they’re doing well,” said Trump, not sounding particularly earnest.
So it went, as Trump presided over the news conference like a poorly trained kindergarten teacher, repeatedly scolding people to sit down or be quiet. CNN found the spectacle sufficiently unseemly as to release this statement:
This President’s ongoing attacks on the press have gone too far. They are not only dangerous, they are disturbingly un-American. While President Trump has made it clear he does not respect a free press, he has a sworn obligation to protect it. A free press is vital to democracy, and we stand behind Jim Acosta and his fellow journalists everywhere.
As miserable as he sounded, as awkward as he appeared, as unsettled as he clearly was about losing the House, Trump hung on for question after question. Maybe he enjoyed abusing the assembled reporters. Maybe he had nothing else to do, like watching TV, knowing that the cable news networks were covering this event live. But at one point, he agreed with Yahoo’s Walker that news conferences of this sort are a good thing. “It’s called ‘earned media’ — it’s worth billions.”