Trump's trainwreck press conference ushers in a clueless presidency

Guardian Web |

Related: Donald Trump lashes out at media and intelligence agencies over Russia claims

Donald Trump is not what he seems. The supposed master of media manipulation stumbled so often at his first press conference it is hard to recall why anyone thought the TV star was good at this stuff in the first place.

If the potentially-explosive story embroiling him weren’t so salacious, you might say this is a case of the emperor’s new clothes. Instead, it’s safe to say the Trump presidency is already a shambles. And it has yet to reach its official start.

For a showman who promised to restore the Reagan era – and even ripped off Reagan’s slogan – this is just one of the most surprising revelations of the last few days.

Reagan and his image-makers knew how to project a sunny image that kept the presidency separate from whatever the pesky media wanted to focus on, like mass-unemployment or secret gun-running to enemy states.

Judging from Wednesday’s trainwreck press conference – the first since July – Trump and his handlers have no self-discipline and no strategy to deal with the Russian crisis that has been simmering for the best part of the last year.

They also have no sense of irony or, apparently, reality. The press conference opened with Sean Spicer, the incoming press secretary, condemning the media coverage of Trump’s compromised relationship with Russia as “frankly outrageous and highly irresponsible.”

It seems churlish to have to recall this tweet from one Donald Trump in the closing phase of the recent election: “Did Crooked Hillary help disgusting (check out sex tape and past) Alicia M become a US citizen so she could use her in the debate?”

This kind of thing makes it hard for the new White House to pass the laugh test, never mind the smell test. It’s heartwarming to know that the president-elect is so concerned about how fake news can destroy real people. If only he had the self-awareness and self-discipline to live by his own words.

Related: Trump's conflicts of interest: a visual guide

In any crisis you generally try to deflect attention from your own misconduct. Instead, Team Trump seems happy to shine a bright light on its own monumental mistakes.

That included the wonderful personal testimony from the new vice-president, Mike Pence, who introduced his boss by assuring us that he was full of what he called “energy.” Perhaps Pence has been spending too much time with someone who liked to criticize his primary opponents for having low energy.

Donald Trump is full of many things but his energy levels are neither relevant nor particularly reassuring at this point.

Besides, if you need your vice-president to attest to your character, you’re such damaged goods that your executive position is already in jeopardy.

Pence’s introduction recalled Al Gore’s sad pep rally on the south lawn of the White House defending President Clinton as “one of our greatest presidents” in the late desperate stages of the Monica Lewinsky scandal.



In many ways, Trump has snowballed all the Clinton scandals into one shock-and-awe transition. He has somehow combined all the anti-Clinton accusations of foreign influence and financial irregularity in the 1996 re-election, with the dubious personal morality of the Lewinsky affair and the never-ending tendency towards cronyism. Only it took the Clintons decades to accrue these kinds of entanglements.

We could compare the relative importance of being Putin’s poodle versus sex with an intern, but what’s the point? After all, Trump can make the case better than any of us.

Without any sense of shame or patriotism, the president-elect celebrated the Russian hacking of the DNC and all those leaked emails. He even bragged about his closeness to the Russian president before claiming – somehow – that Hillary Clinton was the real poodle.

If this is Trump’s playbook for crisis management, his political opponents should sit back and enjoy the show.

“If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks, that is called an asset, not a liability,” Trump said. “Do you honestly believe that Hillary would be tougher on Putin than me? Give me a break.”

Yes, Mr President-elect. The intelligence reports are indeed calling you an asset in the context of Russia. You may keep using that word but, as in the Princess Bride, I do not think it means what you think it means.

Donald Trump will never learn from his mistakes. Suspecting the recent Russia revelations are the work of the intelligence agencies, Trump continues to wage war on his own spies. He could offer no proof of such a betrayal, but continued to trash the CIA in public all the same.

This kind of struggle does not end well for sitting presidents, as Richard Nixon discovered. Woodward and Bernstein’s biggest source, known as Deep Throat, was in fact the deputy director of the FBI itself.

You might think that the main purpose of Trump’s press conference was to squash the Russia dossier news. But no. That was just the first few minutes of the affair.

After a rambling introduction about carmakers, veterans affairs and his inaugural celebrations, Trump finally arrived at his desired topic of the day: the non-resolution of the conflicts of interest that will embroil his presidency from now until he leaves the Oval Office.

A table stacked with yellow envelopes was supposed to represent all the documents Trump signed to disentangle his business affairs from his presidency, by passing management control of the Trump Organization to his sons.

Rather like a suitcase supposedly full of cash, it was hard to tell if any of the documents were real without, you know, releasing them to the press like his tax returns. Instead, we were forced to listen to his personal attorney assuring us there was a wall being built between the presidency and the Trump Organization.

That wall is about as solid as Trump’s other proposed wall on the southern border, given that there is no divestment. Why not? As the Trump attorney explained, a fire sale of Trump assets would be unfair to the president-elect and it was impossible to find an independent trustee competent enough to do so anyway.

Oh yes, and such a divestment would involve a lot of third-party debt, despite Trump’s claims that he has no debt.

The more details that emerge from Team Trump, the worse Trump looks. Of course the Russian dossier couldn’t be true, said the president-elect: “I’m also very much a germophobe, by the way.”

If this is Trump’s playbook for crisis management, his political opponents should sit back and enjoy the show. Like a dog that returns to his vomit, this president-elect just can’t help himself. Let the follies begin.

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