The presidency is not going to change Donald Trump. Instead, Trump is changing the presidency into a disgrace.
Trump’s chaotic first news conference on Wednesday unfolded much as his campaign did: with attacks on his opponents, stupid one-liners —“I’m also very much of a germophobe by the way”—, an avalanche of announcements and some of the toughest questions ignored, including on his potential ethical and financial conflicts and on new reports of alleged contact between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government.
From the start, it was clear the President-elect won’t be putting his assets or company into a blind trust —“I have a no-conflict-of-interest provision as president”. He won’t condemn Vladimir Putin —“If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability”. He will begin building a wall with Mexico as fast as he can, even if Mexico isn’t paying for it at first —“What’s the difference? I want to get the wall started”. He won’t be turning over his tax returns. “The only ones who care about my tax returns are the reporters”, he said.
In short, he won’t be like any past president, because he is a disgrace.
About 20 minutes into the news conference, Trump offered up a boiled down answer that seemed to justify an approach that remains essentially unchanged from the day more than 18 months ago that he descended the gilded escalators in the very same Trump Tower lobby to announce his presidential candidacy.
“I won,” he declared. “I became president.”
The news conference was a rollercoaster of media attacks and settling scores from a nasty campaign that’s still clearly fresh on his mind. It came in two 20-minute acts, with a 15-minute lawyerly intermission on why Trump wasn’t removing his multibillion-dollar empire from his family’s control.
“President-elect Trump should not be expected to destroy the company he built,” his attorney Sheri Dillon said before Trump put the ice on the cake by saying:
“I could actually run my business and run my government at the same time.”
And while he was trying to get the press away from his Russia connection, new reports of contact between Trump’s campaign and Russia and allegations of compromising materials were swirling the news.
Trump, of course, dismissed the report as “fake.”
“It’s all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen,” Trump said of the allegations. “It was gotten by opponents of ours. It was a group of opponents that got together. Sick people and they got together and put that crap together. … It shouldn’t have even entered paper.”
When CNN’s Jim Acosta tried to ask a question, Trump cut him off. “Your organization is terrible,” Trump scolded. “Don’t be rude. …I am not going to give you a question. You are fake news.
“I’m also very much of a germophobe by the way,” he said as a way of obliquely denying the allegations.
When asked about Russia’s involvement in the elections, Trump conceded for the first time that Russia hacked his 2016 opponents, but he also blamed the Democratic victims for it. “The Democratic National Committee was totally open to being hacked,” Trump said.
As for his own campaign and the Republican Party coming out unscathed in the campaign, he said, “I think I get some credit” because he told staff, “I said I want strong hacking defense.”
Trump also offered up hard news that almost got buried in the spectacle, including an ad hoc announcement that David Shulkin will be his secretary of veterans affairs, and that he hopes to appoint a new Supreme Court justice in his second week in office.
Trump took credit for individual companies that have made hiring announcements that fit his job-creating narrative — Ford, United Technologies and Fiat-Chrysler — he also issued threats to those that haven’t, including General Motors.
“I will be the greatest jobs producer that God ever created,” Trump bragged, in a reprise of a popular campaign line.
Trump dodged a final question about whether his campaign had had contact with the Russian government during the campaign.
“There is not a reset button,” Trump said before walking away.
He was probably speaking about Russia. But he also could have been speaking about himself.