Trump's Press Conference Ridiculousness, Broken Down
After months of using Twitter as his bullhorn, and repeated delays of press conferences and promised announcements, Donald Trump gave his first media briefing since July on Wednesday morning. The press event came one day after Buzzfeed News published an explosive (and so far unverified) intelligence report filled with salacious and compromising financial and sexual information reportedly held by Russia against the president-elect. Considering that Trump has steadfastly refused to conform to presidential conventions of meeting with the press regularly (or releasing his tax returns) for a staggering six months, the event left little time for media to ask questions about anything but the most pressing issues. It seems safe to assume that’s precisely how Team Trump wanted it.
The conference opened with a lie. Stepping to the podium first, Trump mouthpiece Sean Spicer contested Buzzfeed's contention that, among others, former adviser Carter Page had served as a liaison between the team and Russia. “Carter Page is an individual who the president-elect does not know and was put on notice months ago by the campaign,” Spicer stated. Yet just a few months ago, Trump was directly quoted by the Washington Post's editorial board as referencing one “Carter Page, PhD” as a member of his foreign policy team. So they were off to a shaky start. Before he left the stage, Spicer referred to the coverage as a “political witch hunt.” And if that sounds familiar, it's because Trump used the phrase just yesterday, meaning everyone got the memo.
There were brief remarks by Mike Pence, who called himself a “supporter of a free and independent press,” which must be a point where Trump—who wants to be able to sue news outlets to ensure it’s anything but—and he differ. Pence mostly made adulatory remarks about Trump, who was up next. Trying to play down the absurd amount of time it’s been since he held a formal press conference while making it the media’s fault, Trump opened by stating, "It's very familiar territory, news conferences, because we used to give them on an almost daily basis. I think we probably maybe won the nomination because of news conferences.”
“So, there’s a great spirit right now, a spirit that many people have told me they’ve never seen before, ever.”
“I said that I will be the greatest jobs producer that god ever created, and I mean that.”
"The [inauguration] is going to be something that will be very, very special, very beautiful. And I think we’re going to have massive crowds because we have a movement. It’s a movement like the world has never seen before."
From there, Trump was exactly as you’ve come to know and expect: vague and cagey, talking without giving detail on a host of issues, insulting the press, and lauding himself.
Here’s a key overview.
1. Said he's too freaked out by germs for golden showers.
Yesterday's leak was sort of a gift to social media, which ran with hashtags and jokes as soon as the news hit the wire. When asked today about the truth content of the leak, Trump's denial cited his awareness of two things: the global surveillance state and how icky he thinks bodily fluids are.
"When I leave our country...I am extremely careful," Trump said. "I’m surrounded by bodyguards. I’m surrounded by people. And I always tell them, anywhere, but I always tell them, if I’m leaving this country, be very careful. Because in your hotel rooms—and no matter where you go, you’re gonna probably have cameras....You better be careful or you’ll be watching yourself on nightly television."
He added, "I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way. Believe me."
2. Evaded question of whether he spoke to Russia, and is still weird about nailing Russia on the hacks.
Yes, it’s newsworthy that after endless hemming and hawing and battling with intelligence experts at 17 agencies, Trump stated, “as far as hacking, I think it was Russia.” It is equally notable that he sought to downplay that statement but immediately followed it up with, “But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.” (He later backtracked in response to another reporter’s Russia question by stating, “it could’ve been others also.”) As he would throughout the rest of the press conference, he seemed intent on being sure China—which has indeed hacked us in the past, though not in the midst of an election, seemingly to affect its outcome—got a mention and also threw Japan and Mexico into the mix. Trump doubled down on blaming the Democratic National Convention for getting hacked, saying it “was totally open,” which is sort of like saying the DNC was asking for it, which seems like a fitting view for Trump to take, based on what we know. Though he said he had “no loans and no dealings” with Russia, a pointed question about whether he or any of his team corresponded with Russia throughout the campaign went unanswered, though it was asked multiple times.
3. On the topic of Obamacare? Lots of self-congrats and nothing concrete.
After filling airtime by calling the Affordable Care Act a disaster, he suggested that this year was going to be a terrible year for the plan. In fact, the Republicans are being benevolent by destroying a plan that has given 20 million people health care, Trump suggested. Especially since they could’ve been strategic and petty about it. “Frankly, we could sit back—and it was a thought from a political standpoint, but it wouldn’t be fair to the people—we could sit back and wait and watch and criticize,” Trump said. Without giving any details, Trump said there will be repeal and replace that will happen “on the same day or the same week, but probably the same day, could be the same hour” that will make health care better and cheaper. The extent to which he offered insights on the plan was restricted to the description that it will involve “very complicated stuff."
4. Taxpayers will pay for the wall, but only until Mexico pays us back, which btw, will never happen.
“It’s not a fence, it’s the wall,” Trump said defensively, in response to a reporter who downgraded his special project. Trump, who spent 18 months telling his supporters that Mexico is going to pay for his ridiculous wall, recently admitted that American taxpayers will cover the cost, because of course we will. Confronted with the question today, he looped back into the absurd contention that Mexico is totally going to reimburse us for a wall it wants no part of. (After wistfully recalling that, “no one’s ever had crowds like Trump has had.”) “I could wait about a year and a half until we finish our negotiations with Mexico, which will start immediately after we get to office,” Trump said. “But I don’t want to wait.”
For the record, on Tuesday, Mexico’s foreign minister said about the likelihood the country will pay for a wall: "There's no way that could happen. There are no circumstances...not even the best possible trade deal, investments, support which would justify taking a step that would violate the dignity of Mexicans to such an extent."
5. The short on his business conflicts: he won’t divest; Don Jr. and Eric are taking over.
Trump brought up Sherri Dillon, a lawyer from Morgan, Lewis and Bockius, which deserves congrats for being named "Russian Law Firm of the Year." Dillon spoke for 14 minutes about how Trump will handle all the businesses he doesn’t plan to divest from. Standing beside a prop—a table covered with papers Trump says are just some of the many he’s signed relating to the issue, as if that tells us anything substantive—Dillon covered the basics. As Trump has previously tweeted, his sons will take over the Trump Organization. Ivanka “will have no further involvement with or management authority whatsoever.” Forget everything you think you know about the emoluments clause. And—here’s where it gets interesting—they will have a new ethics-focused board member who no one seemed interested in explaining the details on. (Who will appoint this person? Who will check their power? Etc., etc.) So—conflicts of interest remain, but with a lot of decoration to obscure them now!
6. We will never see his tax returns.
Here is how Trump responded to the question of when he’ll release his tax returns, after trying the old “they’re under audit” excuse.
“The only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters. They’re the only ones....I won—I mean, I became president...I don't think [people] care at all. I think you care. I think you care."
7. On his contention that the murder of 6 million Jews is like the press scrutiny he's under.
This morning, in response to the leak yesterday, Trump tweeted, “Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany?”
That is an incredibly irresponsible statement when it’s used by fanboys arguing on the internet about the failings of a new superhero movie. It’s egregiously wrong when used by a (self-described) billionaire with a victim complex who just won the U.S. presidential election. In response to what he meant by the statement—which really is a chance to backtrack—Trump held fast to his big, dumb opinion.
“I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it's a disgrace, and I say that, and I say that, and that's something that Nazi Germany would have done and did do.”
8. He still hates the media.
He called Buzzfeed “a failing pile of garbage” and repeatedly refused to take a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta. He also complained about "fake news" and its proliferation, at his expense, without seeming to recall he has been one of the main sources of fake news for years now.
The event ended with Trump—the most car salesman-y guy perhaps ever—tossing out cheap catch phrases that reminded people of his reality star status. Trump’s companies will be “put into trust to be run by my two sons,” he restated while clearly ignoring a question about contact with the Russians. “I hope at the end of eight years, I'll come back and say, Oh, you did a good job. Otherwise, if they do a bad job, I'll say, 'You're fired.'"
Ladies and gentleman, your president-elect. Really.