First, do not bail out Trump when he attacks or evades the question of another journalist. Ask the same question or a follow-up. Do not move on to another topic. If he will not answer a question (e.g., Doesn’t Trump really know who Carter Page is, since he mentioned his name in his editorial board meeting with The Post during the campaign?) ask him why he refuses to answer. “You didn’t answer the question,” they can say. “Please do.”
Second, come armed with Trump quotes and Trump video clips loaded on smart phones. Philippe Reines, who played Trump in the debate preparation with Hillary Clinton, figured out how much he hates hearing his own words thrown back in his face and the degree to which he will lie to avoid taking ownership of his words. “It was when Clinton quoted his tweet on climate change being a Chinese hoax that he went off the rails,” he told Politico. “He really doesn’t like being quoted back to him. I think part of it is he might not remember what he said or wrote at any given time.” (If true, he should have that memory thing checked out, by the way.)
Third, do not ask multi-part questions or long questions. Make sure he does not have any ambiguity to exploit. Don’t ask: “Did you talk to the Russians during the campaign?” Instead ask: ” Did you or anyone on the campaign communicate in any way with the Russians?”
Fourth, be focused on what he is not saying. He said he would “donate” money spent by foreigners at his hotels. The follow-up is: What about other moneys and benefits you receive from foreign governments or their state-owned banks and firms? Others would be: Do you owe money to any foreign banks? Does your company receive permits, licenses or other approvals from foreign governments that are of value?
Fifth, his selected advisers and Cabinet members have contradicted him many times. Nominees want to get confirmed so they generally try to avoid sounding ignorant or nutty. Use the words of the people he respected and has raved about to corner Trump: Mike Pompeo, Jim Mattis and Rex Tillerson all say Russia is a threat. Do all your nominees know something you don’t? Steven Mnuchin, Trump’s secretary of treasury nominee says we can grow between 3 and 4 percent. Is Trump’s tax plan, which assumes much higher growth, just a sales job?
Sixth, press him on his finances. If you won’t show your tax return to the nearest $100,000 how much did you claim in charitable deductions in 2015? 2014? How much of your debt is held by foreign banks? Do you have foreign partners or investors in any business venture?
Seventh, confront him with inconsistencies in his policies. You said the “real” unemployment number is over 40 percent. Will the next month’s BLS unemployment rate reflect this? Would Russia have to stop support for Iran to enjoy better relations or are you content to see it as Iran’s major arm’s supplier?
Eighth, remind him of poll numbers: Your approval rating entering office is the lowest of any recent president. Why don’t people like you or think you are honest? The overwhelming majority of Americans think Russia is a threat. If Putin is so unpopular with Americans why do you never criticize him?
Ninth, put the onus on him to justify his positions and/or refusal to be transparent: You know every property and asset you own. Since you know which would benefit from changes in tax and regulatory policy how can Americans ever be sure you’re not enriching yourself? You hired Mike Flynn, who routinely went on RT, a Russian propaganda outlet, believing it was just another news network. Why should you or voters have any confidence he knows what he is doing?
Tenth, ask him about the human cost of his policies: Many illegal immigrant parents have small children who were born in the United States. Many illegal immigrants have steady work, are enrolled in school or serve in the military. Will you kick them all out or are you in favor of amnesty for millions of people? Rolling back Medicaid to pre-Obamacare levels will leave many poor people with no health insurance. Will you do that? If tariffs go on goods made in China and Walmart raises its prices by 20 or 30 percent, what do you tell the family in Youngstown, Ohio, scraping to make ends meet when they cannot afford clothes or other necessities?
In sum, Trump has gotten by on bluster and lies his whole career. Now his press secretary Sean Spicer demands “decorum” from the press. That’s rich. Rather than marvel at his skill in running circles around them (“Boy did he beat us again!”) the media should track his lies, point out his evasions, force him to answer specific queries and resolve to expose his financial conflicts, his foreign relationships and his policy blunders. Their job requires them to show the American people when and how he’s not doing his.