Most presidents maintain that things matter — life, words, people. So what to make of Trump’s “nothing matters” rhetoric? Here, the president gestures to supporters at a campaign rally in Iowa on Oct. 9. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

It was Feb. 27, 2004, and Donald Trump was on “Larry King Live” to talk about his new hit TV show “The Apprentice.” Eight episodes had already aired — including one titled “Ethics Shmethics” — and the real estate mogul seemed pleased to gab with King about his return to relevance. Near the end of the segment, a caller from Burlington, N.J., asked Trump how he handles stress.

“I try and tell myself it doesn’t matter,” Trump replied. “Nothing matters. If you tell yourself it doesn’t matter — like you do shows, you do this, you do that, and then you have earthquakes in India where 400,000 people get killed. Honestly, it doesn’t matter.”

Last Sunday, Trump was again on television, this time as president of the United States, and not for a softball chat with a showbiz pal. Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes” pressed Trump about his public mockery of Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who accused Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh of sexual assault.

“It doesn’t matter,” Trump said eventually. “We won.”

It doesn’t matter. Nothing really matters. Is this, finally, the Trump Doctrine?

Most presidents have governed from the standpoint of things mattering. Individuals matter. Words matter. Life matters.

“Show up,” Barack Obama said during his farewell address. “Dive in. Persevere.”

“Make the choice to serve in a cause larger than your wants, larger than yourself,” George W. Bush said during his second inaugural address.

Trump began his presidency on a traditional note, with an inaugural speech hinting at the virtue of meaningful collaboration. “We, the citizens of America, are now joined in a great national effort,” he said, “to rebuild our country and to restore its promise for all of our people.”

Since then, Trump has reverted to his old fatalism.

“We’ll see what happens with Iran,” Trump said Sept. 5. “Whether they want to talk or not, that’s up to them, not up to me. I will always be available, but it doesn’t matter one way or the other.”

This philosophy springs from the privilege that’s defined his life, theorizes Tim O’Brien, author of “TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald.” The president was born into wealth, inherited business and opportunity, and kept graduating to higher stations despite financial, personal and political blunders.

“He profoundly believes nothing matters because he usually isn’t the victim of his own mistakes,” O’Brien says. (The White House did not reply to a request for comment.)

“In the end it will work out,” Trump said in May. “I can’t tell you exactly how or why, but it always does.”

He was talking about a summit with North Korea, but he could’ve been talking about his own life. “If it doesn’t [work out], that’s okay too,” he went on to say. “Whatever it is, it is.”

I’d like to know how you handle your stress.

I try and tell myself it doesn’t matter.

Perhaps the Trump Doctrine springs from his onetime assumption that he wouldn’t live past 40, says Gwenda Blair, author of “The Trumps: Three Generations That Built an Empire.” His grandfather died shy of 50, inspiring his father to work (and profit) like a man who was running out of time. Trump’s older brother died in his early 40s. In 1989, when Trump was 43, three of his young employees died in a helicopter crash on the way to Atlantic City.

A tragedy like that “can have two effects,” Trump told Larry King the following year. “You can cherish life more because of it, or it can have the tendency to cheapen it. And unfortunately, it cheapened a little bit for me, because these were three incredible people to die like this.”

For a man so rich, life got cheaper. For a man who likes to define life on his terms — he’s an existentialist, in practice — he talks like a fatalist, resigned to the chaotic but predetermined mechanics of the universe.

“Life is what you do while you’re waiting to die,” Trump told Playboy in 1990. “ . . . We’re here and we live our 60, 70 or 80 years and we’re gone. You win, you win, and in the end, it doesn’t mean a hell of a lot.”

“I’m very much a fatalist,” he told the New York Times in 2016, when asked about the hereditary specter of Alzheimer’s disease, which afflicted his father.

“I’m a great fatalist,” Trump told Newsday in 1991, as his business empire was teetering. “Whatever happens, happens, and you just have to go along with it.”

On Tuesday, in an interview with the Associated Press: “We’ll see what happens,” he said about the possibility of firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

And then a few minutes later: “We’re going to see what happens,” he said in reference to U.S. troops in Syria. “We’re going to see what happens.”

Or perhaps this is not a doctrine at all, but a tactic. In his “maybes” and “we’ll see what happens,” Blair hears a man hedging, refusing to promise anything — “building in deniability,” she says, so no one can ever go back to his statements and say his word was no good. O’Brien, meanwhile, sees statements that are left “intentionally wishy-washy” because “he doesn’t have enough insight into issues to actually know what he thinks about it.”

Words from a president do matter, of course, says historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who recently published a new book, “Leadership: In Turbulent Times.” In 1965, Lyndon B. Johnson said the phrase “we shall overcome” in an address to Congress, deliberately borrowing the language of black civil rights activists to trumpet a voting rights act; it changed the country. Abraham Lincoln never wanted to speak extemporaneously because he feared misusing or diluting the awesome power of a presidential utterance. The most important thing a president does, Theodore Roosevelt once stated, is set an example through his character and words.

As Goodwin sees it, “the coarseness of the words spoken and tweeted by our president are setting a negative example for our country and its citizens.”

“We’ll see what happens,” he said about North Korea on “60 Minutes.”

“We’ll see,” he said this month about a deal with China. “We’ll see. We’ll see.”

“We’ll see what happens,” he said last week when asked about responding to the apparent murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

I’d like to know how you handle your stress.

I try and tell myself it doesn’t matter.

“It doesn’t matter,” Trump said in January 2016, when asked about his flip-flopping political views.

“It doesn’t matter,” a White House aide said in May about John McCain and his opposition to Trump’s nominee for CIA director. “He’s dying anyway.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Trump said two separate times during his Sept. 20 rally in Las Vegas, where he also said “let’s see what happens” twice.

But of course there is one thing that does matter. He implied it on “60 Minutes,” and he pronounced it five weeks before his election, at a rally in Wisconsin.

“The only thing that matters,” he said then, “is to win.”