The most powerful man in the world continued: “You probably ran it live. I know when I do good speeches. I know when I do bad speeches. That speech was a total home run. They loved it. … People loved it. They loved it. They gave me a standing ovation for a long period of time. They never even sat down, most of them, during the speech. There was love in the room. You and other networks covered it very inaccurately. … That speech was a good speech. And you and a couple of other networks tried to downplay that speech. And it was very, very unfortunate that you did.”
Trump brushed off the suggestion that it was disrespectful to deliver Saturday's speech — which included musings about magazine covers and crowd sizes — in front of a hallowed memorial to CIA agents killed in the line of duty. He insisted that the crowd was filled with “the people of the CIA,” not his supporters, and could have been several times larger than it was. Had a poll been taken of the 350-person audience to gauge the speech's greatness, Trump said the result would have been “350 to nothing” in his favor.
The lengthy interview, which aired late Wednesday night, provided a glimpse of the president and his state of mind on his fifth full day in office. It revealed a man who is obsessed with his own popularity and eager to provide evidence of his likability, even if that information doesn't match reality.
Trump insisted that he could have “very, very easily” won the popular vote in the election — which concluded more than 11 weeks ago — had he simply tried. He again suggested that Democrat Hillary Clinton won the popular vote because of widespread voter fraud, of which there is no evidence. He hinted that he thinks voter fraud might have also helped elect former president Barack Obama, whose favorability ratings were higher than his on Inauguration Day. He justified some of his unsubstantiated claims by saying that millions of his supporters agree with him. He did acknowledge that his own approval rating is “pretty bad,” but he blamed that on the media.
Trump plugged an “extraordinary poll” that he said found that people “loved and liked” his inaugural address. He again claimed to have “the biggest crowd in the history of inaugural speeches” and accused the media of demeaning his supporters by underreporting turnout. Trump also took credit for the Dow Jones industrial average closing above 20,000 for the first time on Wednesday, referred to a former rival as “one of the combatants that I fought to get here” and said that a recent visitor told him that their meeting “was the single greatest meeting I've ever had with anybody.”
Even some of the discussion of policy seemed to come back to the fight for popularity. At one point, Trump summed up his plan to replace the Affordable Care Act by saying: “Millions of people will be happy. Right now, you have millions and millions and millions of people that are unhappy.”
Four times, the president referred to himself in the third-person.
The interview revealed just how preoccupied Trump is with two variables that are gumming up his claim of being widely beloved: Losing the popular vote to Clinton and hosting an inauguration crowd that was smaller than in previous years.
“I would've won the popular vote if I was campaigning for the popular vote,” Trump said. “I would've gone to California, where I didn't go at all. I would've gone to New York, where I didn't campaign at all. I would've gone to a couple of places that I didn't go to. And I would've won that much easier than winning the electoral college.”
And even without trying to win the popular vote, Trump has said that he did win the popular vote — if you don't count the millions of fraudulent votes he believes were cast, although state elections officials say they have seen no evidence of that. On Wednesday, Trump called for a “major investigation” into allegations of voter fraud, but gave no details on how such a probe would be carried out.
“You have people that are registered who are dead, who are illegals,” Trump said. “You have people registered in two states. They're registered in New York and New Jersey. They vote twice. There are millions of votes, in my opinion.”
When pressed to back up his accusations, Trump pointed to a 2012 Pew Center report. When ABC's David Muir said the author of that report found “no evidence of voter fraud,” Trump attacked that author.
“Excuse me,” the president snapped. “Then why did he write the report?”
“He's groveling again,” Trump said, repeating the word that he used to describe the gesture he made when imitating New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who wrote an article in 2001 that Trump recently tried to use as evidence that thousands of Muslims celebrated 9/11 on New Jersey rooftops, a rumor that has been repeatedly debunked. Many have interpreted Trump's movements as mocking Kovaleski's physical disability, not mimicking a person groveling.
“You know,” Trump continued, “I always talk about the reporters that grovel when they want to write something that you want to hear, but not necessarily millions of people want to hear, or have to hear.”
Muir attempted to get the president back on topic: “So you've launched an investigation?”
“We're going to launch an investigation to find out,” Trump said. “And then the next time — and I will say this: Of those votes cast, none of them come to me. None of them come to me. They would all be for the other side. None of them come to me.”
Muir listed the reactions of prominent Republicans who do not agree with Trump on this and are alarmed that he is challenging the credibility of the election system.
“Well, let me just tell you, you know what's important? Millions of people agree with me when I say that,” Trump said. “If you would have looked on one of the other networks and all of the people that were calling in, they're saying, 'We agree with Mr. Trump. We agree.' They're very smart people.”
Muir then transitioned into Trump's inauguration crowd size, asking the president why his press secretary delivered a statement on that topic on Saturday.
“Does that send a message to the American people that that's more important than some of the very pressing issues?” Muir said.
“Part of my whole victory was that the men and women of this country who have been forgotten will never be forgotten again,” Trump said. “We had a massive crowd of people. We had a crowd. I looked over that sea of people and I said to myself: 'Wow.' And I've seen crowds before. Big, big crowds. That was some crowd. When I looked at the numbers that happened to come in from all of the various sources, we had the biggest audience in the history of inaugural speeches. I said, the men and women that I was talking to who came out and voted will never be forgotten again. Therefore, I won't allow you or other people like you to demean that crowd and to demean the people that came to Washington, D.C., from faraway places because they like me. But more importantly, they like what I'm saying.”
Later in the interview, Muir asked the president about the hundreds of thousands of people who gathered in major cities and red-state towns across the country on Saturday to voice their opposition to his presidency. Trump admitted that the crowds were “large,” but then argued that an antiabortion march scheduled for Friday is also expecting a large crowd.
“You will have a very large crowd of people. I don't know, as large or larger — some people say it's going to be larger,” Trump said.
Muir cut him off: “I don't want to compare crowd sizes again.”
But Trump did. As the two toured Trump's new home, the president stopped in front of a framed photo of his inauguration crowd.
“Here's a picture of the crowd,” the president explained. “Now, the audience was the biggest ever, but this crowd was massive. Look how far back it goes. This crowd was massive. And I would actually take that camera and take your time [scanning the crowd] if you want to know the truth.”
Then the president took Muir to see another image, a panoramic photo by a local artist who has taken the exact same shot at each inauguration since Reagan was in office. (The other years were not presented for contrast.)
“One thing this shows is how far over they go here,” Trump said, walking up close to the print and pointing as he spoke. “Look. Look how far this is. This goes all the way down here. All the way down. Nobody sees that. You don't see that in the pictures. But when you look at this tremendous sea of love — I call it a sea of love. It's really something special, that all these people traveled here from all parts of the country, maybe the world, but all parts of the country. Hard for them to get here. Many of these people were the forgotten men and women, many of them. And they loved what I had to say. More importantly, they're going to love the result.”