Vintage Trump - confident, obsessive, derisive - meets the press

APTOPIX Trump
President-elect Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017, in New York.

President-elect Donald Trump made one thing crystal clear Wednesday in his news conference: He's not changing.

After two months of transition, Trump was pretty much the same guy who plowed through the campaign like some kind of political Godzilla, breaking things and dominating the landscape.

He was defensive; he settled scores. He was fixated on Hillary Clinton, obsessed about the size and adoration of the crowds he drew, and utterly confident in his promises, though still short on policy detail. And no, he said, he's still not going to release those tax returns.

Trump did grudgingly acknowledge that the Russians hacked the computers of the Democratic National Committee and officials of Clinton's campaign.

"I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people," Trump said.

He blamed China for the recent intrusion into the federal personnel computer system that disclosed 22 million names. He defended the mutual-admiration relationship he's had with Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.

"If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That's called an asset, not a liability," he said. "Now, I don't know that I'm going to get along with Vladimir Putin. I hope I do. . . .. And if I don't, do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Does anybody in this room really believe that? Give me a break."

Trump also could not resist taking a shot at Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who was gone quickly from the Republican presidential primary last year. His name came up in a reporter's question about President Obama's sanctions on Russia.

"Lindsey Graham," Trump said. "I've been competing with him for a long time. He is going to crack that one percent barrier one day."

As a whole, Trump's performance was compelling television (relative to most political news conferences), but it did not fall under the traditional rubric of what has been broadly defined as "presidential" behavior.

"We're going to have to get used to the most unconventional president in U.S. history in terms of style," said Franklin & Marshall College pollster Terry Madonna. "Most of us thought once he's elected, the Trumpisms would go overboard. This is who he is and how he does it."

Polls show that no president in modern times has begun his term with as much baggage as Trump - potential ethical problems arising from his massive business empire, for instance, and serious doubts from much of the public about his leadership qualities and character.

A Quinnipiac University survey released Wednesday showed that Trump's standing has eroded since its previous poll six weeks ago.

Just 37 percent of American voters approve of the way Trump is handling his job as president-elect, the poll said. Slight majorities say that Trump is not honest and agree that he does not care about average Americans. Sixty-two percent say that the incoming president is not levelheaded. (One-third of voters believe he is.)

Only 12 percent believe Trump will be a "great" president, while 30 percent say he will be a "good" president. Twenty percent predict Trump will be "not so good," and 32 percent say he will be "bad," the poll found.

And Quinnipiac shows that two out of three U.S. voters think Trump should close his personal Twitter account when he is sworn in next week. Even 45 percent of registered Republicans agree.

The billionaire businessman has used the social-media platform to counterattack critics. Just Monday, Trump tweeted a blast at actress Meryl Streep, who had criticized him at the Golden Globe awards Sunday night, as "one of the most overrated actresses in Hollywood."

Yet Trump was elected, doing things his way - and winning is its own justification, he suggested in the news conference.

He said he was not going to release his tax returns, something every president since Richard Nixon has done, and claimed the American public doesn't care about it.

"You know, the only one that cares about my tax returns are the reporters, OK?" Trump said. "I won, when I became president. No, I don't think they care at all. I don't think they care at all."

tfitzgerald@phillynews.com

215-854-2718@tomfitzgerald

www.philly.com/bigtent