Donald Trump took questions from the media Wednesday for the first time since he was elected president on Nov. 8. And he quickly put to rest the idea that his rapidly approaching presidency would fundamentally change his tone, style or basic approach to issues and the media.
- Trump — through a lawyer — said he would not put his assets in a blind trust, the traditional way in which presidents wall off their private interests from their public obligations. Trump was also quick to note that as president it is impossible for him to, legally speaking, have a conflict of interest and, therefore, any steps he takes to separate his business interests from his presidency were above and beyond the call of duty. (This was a similar line of logic used by Trump's lawyer to explain how he would deal with the Emoluments clause.)
- Trump refused to offer a timetable for the release of his tax returns. He insisted that the only people who care about his tax returns are reporters. (Not true!) As evidence that no one cares about his tax returns, Trump offered this: “I won.”
- Given the chance to condemn Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump did not. Instead, he said it was an “asset” that Putin allegedly likes him. When asked directly about the Russian hacking of the election, Trump acknowledged it was probably Russia — which is further than he has gone before — but quickly pivoted to emphasize that Putin wouldn't be doing these sorts of things under a Trump administration.
- Trump began his news conference with somewhat surprising words of praise for the media and their discernment in not publishing allegations in a Russia dossier. (BuzzFeed did publish the full dossier, even though the allegations are unsubstantiated and have not been corroborated by any major news organization to date.) But, by the end of the news conference, Trump was back to his old, media-hating self; he shouted down CNN's Jim Acosta, who repeatedly tried to ask him a question — eventually telling Acosta that he was “fake news.”
Those four examples — and those were only the four that immediately sprang to mind — make very clear that Trump has absolutely no plan to pivot when he assumes the presidency. He is who he is. There is no Trump but Trump.
I've long believed that talk of a pivot or an unveiling of a “more presidential” Trump, which has been a nonstop subject since it became clear Trump would be the Republican presidential nominee last spring, is an absolute misjudgment not only of Trump but of what his many victories over the past 18 months have taught him.
Ask yourself this: How many 70-year-old men fundamentally change their personality? How about 70-year-old men who have been extremely successful? Is there a number less than zero?
That was true even before Trump started to win primaries and caucuses over the course of 2016. What his primary win taught him was that he was right and the “Republican brain trust” was wrong. What his general election victory taught him was that he was right and that everyone in the political class — elected officials, consultants, the media — was wrong. Why the hell would Trump change his approach to politics and policy after the year he has had? The simple answer is he wouldn't.
For Trump, the ends justify the means. In winning, he showed that everything from tax returns to blind trusts to cordial relations with the media were immaterial to regular people. “How can it be bad/wrong if I won?” is the Trump thought on, well, everything. His news conference Wednesday proved that basic belief won't be changing when the president-elect becomes the president in nine days.