At the start of his news conference Wednesday, President Trump projected satisfaction with Tuesday’s election results — despite losing the House — and repeatedly made the case that he helped Republicans win. “I’ll be honest,” he said later, “I thought it was very close to a complete victory.”
The rest of his performance painted quite the opposite picture: a wounded, angry president who was on his heels.
In his lengthy preamble, Trump talked about GOP gains in the Senate, candidates he supported who won, and even called out — by name — Republicans who didn’t support him enough and lost. “Too bad, Mike,” Trump said about defeated Rep. Mike Coffman (Colo.). “Mia Love gave me no love, and she lost,” Trump said of Rep. Love (Utah). “Too bad, Mia.” (Love hasn’t technically lost.) He made excuses for House GOP losses, including — plausibly — the many, many Republican retirements in the House.
But when reporters began asking questions, Trump quickly became defensive and even curt.
When he was pressed on his promise to launch investigations of Democrats if they investigate his administration, Trump said, “If they do that, then all it is is a warlike posture.” He then quickly moved to the next question.
When CNN’s Jim Acosta pressed him repeatedly on his harsh immigration rhetoric, Trump called him an embarrassment to CNN. “Honestly, I think you should let me run the country, and you run CNN,” Trump said. He added: “You’re a very rude, terrible person,” and, “You are the enemy of the people.”
When NBC News’s Peter Alexander vouched for Acosta’s work, Trump attacked him, too: “I’m not a big fan of yours either, to be honest.”
Trump implored both of them to sit down, as he did later with another reporter, who tried to interject with a question.
Later, PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor asked about whether Trump’s embrace of the label “nationalism” could lead white nationalists to believe he was on their side. Trump repeatedly accused Alcindor, who is black, of being the one injecting racism. “That’s such a racist question,” Trump said, “What you just said is so insulting to me.”
Part of this is stagecraft. Trump likes to joust, and he likes to pit his base against the media. But Trump’s skin seemed especially thin Wednesday. And for a guy who was supposed to be happy with a “complete victory” Tuesday, he was projecting quite the opposite. He wasn’t exactly selling the idea that he was pleased with what had just happened. If he was, why would he be so especially punchy?
And you could forgive him. Trump is a proud person, and even he has intermittently admitted that the 2018 election was a referendum on him. Losing more than 30 House seats and the House has to feel like a reflection of himself, even if he won’t admit it. Indeed, Trump’s almost incessant re-litigating of why he deserves credit for Tuesday’s results suggests he’s not feeling terribly confident about it.
He’s also now got to put up with Democrats being able to subpoena his administration and possibly even get his tax returns. His agenda can no longer benefit from unified GOP control of Congress. It now goes through likely-soon-to-be-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
We have entered a new era of the Trump administration. And Trump’s first big public appearance after election night suggests he’s not quite as sure-footed as he’d like you to believe.