But, of course, there’s a reason politicians generally try to communicate deliberately: It helps them avoid saying things that might offend voters or stir up controversy. This has never been a concern of Trump’s, often to the consternation of his staff and allies. They’re left cleaning up after him, as when White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Monday had to try to explain why Trump tweeted false claims about coronavirus-related deaths and why he expressed appreciation for a thread of comments defending a murder suspect in Wisconsin.
Having someone around to clean up any problematic comments is also why Trump has given more interviews to Fox News than any other outlet as president.
On Monday, the network aired the first part of a lengthy interview with far-right host Laura Ingraham, a Trump supporter who spoke at the 2016 Republican convention. On multiple occasions, Trump wandered into problematic territory, only to have Ingraham pointedly toss him a lifeline.
At one point, for example, Trump began to explain that police officers are judged by the few who shoot Black people instead of all the good they do. He used an analogy that probably works a lot better when he’s entertaining guests at Bedminster than it did on television.
“The police are under siege because of things — they can do 10,000 great acts, which is what they do, and one bad apple — or a choker — you know, a choker. They choke,” Trump said. “Shooting the guy — shooting the guy in the back many times.”
Here Trump was referring to the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. Blake was shot multiple times in the back as he reached into his car, spurring protests in the city.
“I mean, couldn’t you have done something different?” Trump continued. “Couldn’t you have wrestled him? You know, I mean, in the meantime, he might have been going for a weapon, and, you know, there’s a whole big thing there, but they choke. Just like in a golf tournament, they miss a three-foot putt.”
Ingraham jumped in.
“You're not comparing to golf,” she said, “because, of course, that’s what the media would say. Yes.”
“No. I’m saying people choke,” Trump replied.
“People make — people panic,” Ingraham said. “Yes.”
Hey, guess what? The media is going to say that Trump compared a police officer shooting an unarmed man to a golfer missing a putt because Trump compared a police officer shooting an unarmed man to a golfer missing a putt.
The thing about Trump is that he rarely says anything new. There have been moments when you’ll see him stumble onto a new talking point, but generally he reiterates well-worn lines that he has tried out before. The odds are that he heard or used that “sometimes the police just choke” line while chatting with someone else and it just stuck. Ingraham, who has been doing this for a while, understood that this was not necessarily a politically useful analogy.
She did the same thing at another point in the interview, when Trump was lamenting policies aimed at diversifying the suburbs.
“They want low-income housing, and with that comes a lot of other problems, including crime,” Trump said. “May not be nice to say, but — ”
“You’re not saying all poor people are criminals, though,” Ingraham interjected.
“No, I’m not saying that at all,” Trump said, clearly picking up the hint, “but it does — there is a level of violence that you don’t see.”
He went on to explain that “women, they want security.”
In this case, Ingraham’s clarification was accurate. Trump wasn’t saying that all poor people are criminals, just that lower-income people bring crime and violence with them wherever they go. A much more nuanced point.
Over the course of his presidency, Trump has been interviewed by Ingraham half a dozen times. He has been interviewed by the network’s Sean Hannity — who also endorsed Trump in 2016 — nearly two dozen times. In total, according to Washington Post data, Trump has been interviewed by Fox News 82 times and Fox Business Network an additional 16 times, making up more than 40 percent of the interviews he has given, excluding those given to local television news channels.
Just as there's a reason he gives more interviews to Fox News than to other networks, there's a reason he gives more interviews to Hannity than other Fox News hosts. If Ingraham took it upon herself to gently guide Trump back onto the proper path, Hannity does little more than reiterate Trump's rhetoric back to him for the president's input. (The president generally agrees.)
The remarkable thing, of course, is that Trump manages to make news even in these friendly interviews. When he sat down with Axios’s Jonathan Swan at the end of July, he revealed a remarkable lack of understanding about the coronavirus pandemic, a function of Swan pushing him in a way that Ingraham or Hannity wouldn’t. But even with Ingraham, Trump managed to stumble onto rocky terrain.
At one point, for example, he delineated a bizarre allegation about black-clad ne’er-do-wells jetting into D.C. to disrupt the Republican National Convention, an allegation that mirrored online conspiracy theories that were popular earlier this year. Ingraham asked him a few questions about the idea, in obvious bafflement.
Then the interview went to commercial and, when it returned, Ingraham changed the subject.
JM Rieger contributed to this report.