Many people are saying that President Trump's raw and emotional 77-minute news conference Thursday was a disaster — a display of id totally unshackled from political strategy.
Donald Trump is not one of those people. For Trump, the news conference was a major triumph and a big part of the reason he loves both politics and being president. For more than an hour, Trump talked up his accomplishments, mocked reporters and, generally, acted like the ringmaster of the greatest show on earth. And, he loved every second of it.
Need evidence? Just listen to Trump himself.
"I'll be honest, because I sort of enjoy this back and forth that I guess I have all my life," Trump said on Thursday, a remarkably candid assessment of his lifelong commitment to the joust, the back and forth between the media and celebrities/politicians.
His life is a testament to just how much he revels in it. Remember that this is the man who made up a young PR executive named John Barron to tout Donald Trump's eligibility as a bachelor. Someone who has confessed that the New York Post is the newspaper he reads first. Someone who has built a career on being talked about, being in the middle of things. Trump understands (and has always understood) that there is a symbiotic relationship between himself and the media; that, sure, he needs them but they need him — someone willing to be relentlessly, inescapably watchable — even more.
Writing about the news conference, the Post's Phil Rucker put it well:
"But the president also put on a show. He bantered and cajoled. He was playful, even. He waved away tough questions ("The whole Russian thing, that's a ruse") and cried out for "friendly" ones, congratulating a reporter who solicited his thoughts on the "great work" of first lady Melania Trump."
For Trump, there isn't really good news or bad news. There is news he orchestrates and everything else. And, on Thursday, he was in command — in his mind — of the whole orchestra. Consider:
1. Even as Trump strode into East Room, there was uncertainty about whether he would even take questions at all. The event was ostensibly to introduce his new labor secretary nominee — Alex Acosta — but it became clear very quickly that Trump had little interest in talking about anything other than himself.
2. He spent more than 20 minutes on an "opening" statement.
3. He swashbuckled his way through scads of reporters, offering up his judgments not only of their questions but their outlets and even shows on certain cable stations.
4. Everyone — and I do mean everyone — was talking about Trump, and only Trump, afterward.
Remember that for Trump, appearances are hugely important. And the appearance he gave off on Thursday was of a boss, the sun around which the political universe revolves.
Trump had been unhappy with his aides over the past few weeks, believing that they were on the wrong side of the media fire hose. So, he nominated his best spokesman — himself — to take back control. This account, from a terrific New York Times report on the news conference, sets that scene nicely:
"The news conference, [supporters] said, was Mr. Trump's best effort at spitting the bit out of his mouth and escaping the bridle of the West Wing, where he views his only way to communicate his side of any argument is his 140-character limited Twitter feed."
Trump is always at his most content when he is front and center. It's why he loved the campaign trail so much. His speeches broadcast live on cable TV, his supporters roaring for him. It's why, more than 1,300 days before the 2020 presidential race, Trump is headed to Florida this weekend for a campaign rally. If Trump could have a TV channel that simply broadcast everything he said and did 24-7/365, he'd do it in a second. His formative experience in the second half of his life is reality TV; the biggest danger in that world is not being talked about, not being relevant, not being part of the conversation.
Trump said as much on Thursday. "The tone [of the media coverage] is such hatred. I'm really not a bad person, by the way. No, but the tone is such — I do get good ratings, you have to admit that — the tone is such hatred."
1. Reporters are mean to me
2. Doesn't matter, because I get good ratings
Trump loved every one of the 77 minutes he performed in front of the national press corps on Thursday. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if we see more of these news conferences rather than fewer.