This post has been updated.
Hillary Clinton seems to think Donald Trump might not be in the same position if only the media had asked him tough questions. "Being a loose cannon doesn't in any way protect him, I hope, from being asked the hard questions that he should have been asked during the whole primary process," Clinton told CNN's Anderson Cooper last week.
President Obama said much the same on Friday: "What I'm concerned about is the degree to which reporting and information starts emphasizing the spectacle and the circus. That's not something we can afford. And the American people — they've got good judgment; they've got good instincts, as long as they get good information."
This is a common complaint among voters frustrated by Trump's success, and no one should be surprised to see Clinton and Obama working the refs ahead of the general election. But the idea that Trump got a pass from a press corps that was too distracted by controversy to make serious inquiries just doesn't hold up to scrutiny. Trump has certainly created a circus-like atmosphere and absolutely been lobbed his share of softballs, yes. But he has also been grilled — repeatedly.
That's not to say that the real estate magnate has offered substantive answers. (As he showed again on Monday, in an interview with CNN's Chris Cuomo, Trump can stall, complain and filibuster his way out of almost anything.) It's merely to say that many journalists are doing what they're supposed to do.
Here are eight times Trump faced the kinds of tough questions he has supposedly been spared.
Chris Wallace fact-checks Trump's bogus budget math (March 3)
WALLACE: Mr. Trump, your proposed tax cut would add $10 trillion to the nation's debt over 10 years, even if the economy grows the way that you say it will. You insist that you could make up for a good deal of that, you say, by cutting waste, fraud and abuse. Like what? And please be specific.
TRUMP: Department of Education. We're cutting Common Core. We're getting rid of Common Core. We're bringing education locally. Department of Environmental Protection. We are going to get rid of it in almost every form. We're going to have little tidbits left, but we're going to take a tremendous amount out. ...
WALLACE: But, Mr. Trump, Mr. Trump, your numbers don't add up. Please put up full screen number four. The Education Department you talk about cutting, the total budget for the Education Department is $78 billion. And that includes Pell grants for low-income students and aid to states for special education. I assume you wouldn't cut those things. The entire budget for the EPA, the Environmental Protection Agency, $8 billion. The deficit this year is $544 billion. That's more than a half-trillion dollars. Your numbers don't add up, sir.
The New York Times presses Trump on foreign policy (March 26)
DAVID SANGER: What you are describing to us, I think, is something of a third category. But tell me if I have this right, which is much more of a, if not isolationist, then at least something of “America First” kind of approach, a mistrust of many foreigners, both our adversaries and some of our allies, a sense that they’ve been freeloading off of us for many years.
TRUMP: Correct. Okay? That’s fine.
SANGER: Okay? Am I describing this correctly here?
TRUMP: I’ll tell you — you’re getting close. Not isolationist, I’m not isolationist, but I am “America First.” So I like the expression. I’m “America First.” We have been disrespected, mocked and ripped off for many, many years by people that were smarter, shrewder, tougher. ...
MAGGIE HABERMAN: Would you be willing to withdraw U.S. forces from places like Japan and South Korea if they don’t increase their contribution significantly?
TRUMP: Yes, I would. I would not do so happily, but I would be willing to do it. Not happily. David actually asked me that question before, this morning before we sort of finalized out. The answer is not happily, but the answer is yes. We cannot afford to be losing vast amounts of billions of dollars on all of this. We just can’t do it anymore.
Jake Tapper grills Trump about KKK support (Feb. 28)
TAPPER: I want to ask you about the Anti-Defamation League, which this week called on you to publicly condemn unequivocally the racism of former KKK grand wizard David Duke, who recently said that voting against you at this point would be treason to your heritage. Will you unequivocally condemn David Duke and say that you don't want his vote or that of other white supremacists in this election?
TRUMP: Well, just so you understand, I don't know anything about David Duke. OK? I don't know anything about what you're even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don't know. I don't know, did he endorse me or what's going on, because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists. And so you're asking me a question that I'm supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.
TAPPER: But I guess the question from the Anti-Defamation League is, even if you don't know about their endorsement, there are these groups and individuals endorsing you. Would you just say unequivocally you condemn them and you don't want their support?
TRUMP: Well, I have to look at the group. I mean, I don't know what group you're talking about. You wouldn't want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I would have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them. And, certainly, I would disavow if I thought there was something wrong.
TAPPER: The Ku Klux Klan?
TRUMP: But you may groups in there that are totally fine, and it would be very unfair. So, give me a list of the groups, and I will let you know.
TAPPER: OK. I mean, I'm just talking about David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan here, but ...
TRUMP: I don't know any — honestly, I don't know David Duke. I don't believe I have ever met him. I'm pretty sure I didn't meet him. And I just don't know anything about him.
Hugh Hewitt exposes Trump's unfamiliarity with the Middle East (Sept. 3)
HEWITT: I thought that today — this is our sixth interview — I’d turn to some of the commander-in-chief questions. Are you ready for that?
TRUMP: Okay, fine.
HEWITT: Are you familiar with General Soleimani?
TRUMP: Yes, but go ahead, give me a little, go ahead, tell me.
HEWITT: He runs the Quds Forces.
TRUMP: Yes, okay, right.
HEWITT: Do you expect his behavior …
TRUMP: The Kurds, by the way, have been horribly mistreated by …
HEWITT: No, not the Kurds, the Quds Forces — the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Quds Forces.
TRUMP: Yes, yes.
HEWITT: … is the bad guys.
HEWITT: Do you expect his behavior to change as a result …
TRUMP: Oh, I thought you said Kurds, Kurds.
HEWITT: No, Quds.
TRUMP: Oh, I’m sorry, I thought you said Kurds, because I think the Kurds have been poorly treated by us, Hugh. Go ahead.
Anderson Cooper tries to nail down Trump's federalism (March 29)
COOPER: Aren't you against the federal government's involvement in education? Don't you want it to dissolve to states?
TRUMP: I want it to go to states, yes. Absolutely. I want — right now ...
COOPER: So that's not part of what the federal government's ...
TRUMP: The federal government, but the concept of the country is the concept that we have to have education within the country, and we have to get rid of Common Core, and it should be brought to the state level.
COOPER: And federal health care run by the federal government?
TRUMP: Health care — we need health care for our people. We need a good — Obamacare is a disaster. It's proven to be ...
COOPER: But is that something the federal government should be doing?
TRUMP: The government can lead it, but it should be privately done.
Chris Matthews asks how Trump would enforce a ban on abortions (March 30)
MATTHEWS: Do you believe in punishment for abortion — yes or no — as a principle?
TRUMP: The answer is that there has to be some form of punishment.
MATTHEWS: For the woman?
TRUMP: Yes, there has to be some form.
George Stephanopoulos challenges Trump's claim that 'thousands' of New Jersey Muslims celebrated 9/11 (Nov. 22)
STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, the police say that didn’t happen, and all those rumors have been on the Internet for some time. So did you misspeak yesterday?
TRUMP: It did happen. I saw it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: You saw that …
TRUMP: It was on television. I saw it.
STEPHANOPOULOS: … with your own eyes?
TRUMP: George, it did happen.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Police say it didn’t happen.
TRUMP: There were people that were cheering on the other side of New Jersey, where you have large Arab populations. They were cheering as the World Trade Center came down. I know it might be not politically correct for you to talk about it, but there were people cheering as that building came down — as those buildings came down. And that tells you something. It was well covered at the time, George. Now, I know they don’t like to talk about it, but it was well covered at the time. There were people over in New Jersey that were watching it, a heavy Arab population, that were cheering as the buildings came down. Not good.
STEPHANOPOULOS: As I said, the police have said it didn’t happen.
The Post's editorial board presses Trump on nuking the Islamic State, also known as ISIS (March 21)
FRED RYAN: You mentioned a few minutes earlier here that you would knock ISIS. You’ve mentioned it many times. You’ve also mentioned the risk of putting American troop in a danger area. If you could substantially reduce the risk of harm to ground troops, would you use a battlefield nuclear weapon to take out ISIS?
TRUMP: I don’t want to use — I don’t want to start the process of nuclear. Remember the one thing that everybody has said: I’m a counterpuncher. Rubio hit me. Bush hit me. When I said low energy, he’s a low-energy individual, he hit me first. I spent, by the way, he spent 18 million dollars’ worth of negative ads on me. That’s putting …
RYAN: This is about ISIS. You would not use a tactical nuclear weapon against ISIS?
TRUMP: I’ll tell you one thing, this is a very good-looking group of people here. Could I just go around so I know who the hell I’m talking to?
Bob Woodward presses Trump on Mexico paying for border wall (March 9)
WOODWARD: I want to ask about the wall you're going to get Mexico to build. We were talking about this earlier and a number of my colleagues here say you really haven't answered the question how you're going to do that. And you know from business somebody can have a good idea but how are they going to do it? And can you give us some idea?
TRUMP: Okay. Great question, Bob. Sure. Okay. Look, the wall. First of all, Mexico is not going to build it, we're going to build it. And it's going to be a serious wall. It's not going to be a toy wall like we have right now where cars and trucks drive over it loaded up with drugs and they sell the drugs in our country and then they go back and, you know, we get the drugs, they get the cash, okay, and that's not going to happen.
WOODWARD: Right. How are you going to get them to pay for it?
TRUMP: We're going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay. And the reason they're going to pay and the way they're going to pay, Bob, is this. We have a trade deficit now with Mexico of $58 billion a year. The wall is going to cost $10 billion a year. That's what it's going to cost. It's going to be a powerful wall. It's going to cost $10 billion. Now —
WOODWARD: But they're a sovereign nation.
TRUMP: When you're losing — or essentially losing — but when you're losing $58 billion a year on trade — in addition to that we give subsidies for Mexico. Believe me, I have all the cards. Now will a politician be able to do it? No, because they don't know how to negotiate. That's how we have the Iran deal where we give them $150 billion and other things. But for me that's a hundred percent, Bob, and you can hold me to it and you will hold me to it.
WOODWARD: Okay, but how do you get a sovereign nation that says they don't want to pay to pay?
TRUMP: Very simple. There are five different ways you can do it. You can do it through not giving them the subsidy that we pay them. You know, we pay Mexico a subsidy. I don't know if you know. But the whole thing is ridiculous. We're paying everybody subsidy. We actually have a small portion of China where they get a subsidy from us because they haven't ended it for years.
WOODWARD: Just suppose they won't do it. Would you —
TRUMP: We pay a subsidy. Money coming over the border, they're — there are so many ways that Mexico makes money with us, Bob. There are so many different ways, five in particular, that we will take it out of there.
WOODWARD: I'm sorry to press on this, but how would you grab that money? If they say no, would you be willing to go to war to make sure we get the money to pay for this wall?
TRUMP: Trust me, Bob. When I rejuvenate our military, Mexico's not going to be playing with us with war, that I can tell you. Mexico is not playing with us with war.