President Trump can't make up his mind.
Last week, fresh off his meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump sounded pleased with media coverage of the event.
“They've been treating me very good on this subject,” the president told Fox News host Sean Hannity in Singapore. “What's to treat badly?”
The coverage was so good, in Trump's estimation, that at a news conference he complimented CNN's Jim Acosta — a reporter he has called “crazy” — on a “very fair question.”
Now, however, Trump is complaining. On Wednesday, he retweeted a message posted by his son Eric, who wrote: “It is hard to believe that the historic North Korea / Kim Jong Un summit was exactly one week ago. Truly amazing to see the lengths the left / the media will go through to change the narrative.”
The retweet followed a multiday string of original tweets in which the president griped about “fake news” reporting and commentary on the summit.
Trump appears torn — unable to decide whether it is better to play conqueror or victim. At first, he attempted to cast his meeting with Kim as so indisputably successful that even skeptical journalists were impressed. But lately he has changed tactics and presented himself as the target of relentless naysaying, ostensibly to build enthusiasm for the summit among voters who reflexively embrace whatever they perceive the media reject.
Trump generally favors the latter approach but occasionally waffles on how to characterize his coverage. After this year's State of the Union address, for example, he tweeted his gratitude for “all of the nice compliments and reviews” of his speech. He also falsely claimed to have attracted the most TV viewers in history. The goal, it seemed, was to cement the perception of a great performance by claiming to generate positive press and huge ratings.
Two days later, however, Trump resumed complaining about media coverage — specifically a dearth of reporting on an outlier poll that showed him with a 49 percent approval rating.
At a rally last summer, Trump boasted to the crowd that, “believe it or not,” he had just received “great reviews” for a speech in which he outlined a military strategy that included sending additional troops to Afghanistan.
In reality, coverage of the speech had been mixed, at best. Breitbart News, as reliably pro-Trump as any news outlet, hammered the president for deviating from the noninterventionist foreign policy on which he campaigned.
Nevertheless, as in other instances, Trump sought to convince voters that he had done something good by claiming that even the media had deemed it good. And, as in other instances, Trump quickly went back to denouncing the “fake news” media.
The president appears to have an ongoing internal debate about whether he benefits more from being seen as besieged by unfair coverage or being viewed as so undeniably excellent that he can win over the press.