Even by the standards of a Donald Trump performance, this was...unique.
On Thursday, the president held one of the few press availabilities he’s offered since taking office last month, and it quickly became a cross between A Night at the Improv, a Dadaesque recitation of random thoughts (and gestures) and a bit of grinning Laurie Anderson performance art.
At times self-pitying and aggressive, playful but with digressions into nuclear holocaust, it was more entertaining than The Apprentice and more frightening than The Walking Dead.
The big headlines were these: Trump defended his now-departed national security adviser, Michael Flynn, saying that the retired Army general was right to be speaking to Russia in the days before Trump was sworn in and that his only error was misinforming Vice President Mike Pence about the conversations. As is his wont, the president was somewhat cryptic, but he seemed to be gently rebuking Flynn for not giving Pence a more fulsome briefing on his chat with the Russian ambassador to the U.S., resulting in the vice president spreading falsehoods when he claimed on nationally broadcast news shows that Flynn had not discussed sanctions.
The Russia discussion only got more bizarre when CBS News's Major Garrett asked about recent provocations from Moscow, such as its aircraft buzzing a U.S. naval vessel and the appearance of a Russian Navy craft just 30 miles off the U.S. Trump riffed on how popular he would be if he blew up the encroaching Russian ship, but then allowed that a nuclear holocaust would be unlike any other holocaust. He asked the press corps if they knew what uranium was.
But, hey, that was the beginning. Before the hour-plus session was over, Trump had told a reporter from a Jewish publication that his question about rising anti-Semitism was very unfair and to sit down. When asked by an African-American reporter, April Ryan, if he would meet with the Congressional Black Caucus to discuss the plight of inner cities, the president asked if those African-Americans were her “friends” and if she could set up a meeting.
He ripped into CNN repeatedly, tweaking its White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, by saying he was very careful to make sure his new nominee labor secretary, Alex Acosta, was not a relative. The president also lashed out at “fake news” repeatedly, even while spewing falsehoods. He said he’d had the biggest electoral landslide since 1984. Not true, as New York Daily News editorial Writer Robert George tweeted. Trump was correct only “if you don't count Bush '88, Clinton '92, Clinton '96, Obama '08 and Obama '12.” He then said he’d been given “misinformation” about the size of his electoral win.
If you were in doubt about his TV viewing habits, he says he doesn’t watch CNN—but then proceeded to critique the network, especially the show’s 10 p.m. broadcast anchored by Don Lemon.
The ostensible news of the day, the nomination of a respected mainstream Republican to be his labor secretary nominee, was quickly dispatched in what could only be called a “low energy” introduction, during which Trump seemed unusually sedate. By the end of the hour, he seemed giddy and almost eager to stay, which seemed like an odd reminder of another world leader who is famous for his hours-long, rambling, often comic, end-of-year press conferences: Vladimir Putin.