President Trump held his first live press conference yesterday and it did not disappoint. In his imitable style he entered the East Room of the White House to announce the new nomination for Secretary of Labor and then entered into battle with the press. If this was a prize fight and I was judging it I would have given it a split decision with the press getting a slight victory. There were no knockdowns and it was simply a win on points.
In the battle of Donald vs the Press it went like this. Donald scored some points with his base by attacking the press continually. He constantly kept the right jab working and occasionally threw a haymaker. His fans cheered him on as he took the fight to the press and tried for the knock out. But the press landed more punches, or to be more accurate, Trump swung and missed and on occasion actually hit himself. It was certainly not the staid press conference of previous administrations.
Trump was partially right when he said that our foreign policy is a mess. Obama never had a clear direction on what he was trying to accomplish and seemed to be making it up on the fly. In the Middle East, the most critical region in the world right now, his policies failed and now we have the largest refugee crisis since the Second World War. Syria is in a state of failure and the options left to the United States are both long term losers. Obama threatened Assad with retaliation (the famous red line) if he used chemical weapons and then failed to back up that promise. In Iraq he pulled out US troops prematurely creating a vacuum that allowed ISIS to flourish. With Russia he promised, along with Hillary Clinton, the famous reset and based on his comments in a debate with Mitt Romney never viewed Russia as the threat it is in world affairs. As a result Russia expanded it sphere of influence and marched on Crimea and the Ukraine. Point to Trump.
Trump was correct when he said that we have no cohesive immigration policy and Obama never could provide the necessary leadership to bring a bipartisan bill out of the Congress. Obama finally had to enact deportations but they went mostly unnoticed by the media and the activists protesting in the streets today. Point to Trump.
Trump continued his attack on the press calling them dishonest and using “fake news” to criticize him. The press fired back with questions that the President struggled to form coherent answers. Point to the press.
Trump made the claim that he has made in the past that he had the biggest Electoral College victory since Ronald Reagan. The press immediately counter punched by telling him that George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton (twice)and Barrack Obama (twice) had exceeded his electoral vote counts. He dug himself further into a hole by misstating the actual number of votes he got by claiming it was 306 when the real number of 304. Small mistake but it is amplified when you continue to make these claims. The reality was that his Electoral College win was one of the smallest since Reagan. Point to the press.
When addressing the travel ban Trump took the offensive early by attacking the 9th Circuit saying they made a wrong decision and that in the end his Executive Order, either on appeal or as rewritten next week, would prevail. He thought he landed a good punch by stating that the 9th Circuit has been overturned 80% of the time by the Supreme Court. First, this is kind of misleading. It is true that of the cases taken on appeal by the Court the 9th Circuit was overturned 79% of the time. But the vast majority of their cases are not appealed just like every other appellate court. And then you throw in the fact that the between the years measured, 2010-2015, the 6th Circuit was overturned 87% of the time and the 11th Circuit was overturned 85% of the time. The real fact here is that if the Supreme Court agrees to hear an appeal there is a high likelihood they believe there are grounds for overturning the lower court. Trump landed an early glancing blow only to be rocked by a straight jab. Point to the press.
On the issue of Russia it gets complicated because there are several subset issues involved. One is the question of the Trump campaign’s communication with Russia or Russians during the campaign. Trump said that to his knowledge there was none and the Paul Manafort was not with the campaign that long. Manafort is one of those under investigation for having some communication with Russia. Second is Russia’s activity in the world including a spy ship cruising off the eastern seaboard of the United States. This has happened before but the current situation make is more newsworthy. Trump boasted that the best thing he could do for public opinion was to “blast the ship out of the water” but everyone knows that is just talk and certainly would not happen. Third is the issue of relations with Russia. Trump brought up the reset issue and ended up saying that he would like to get a deal with Russian but now believes that is not possible. No points for either.
The best round of this fight for Trump came on the leaks. He correctly described them as “illegal” and vowed to find the sources. Some on the left have cheered these leaks and egged the press on in writing what the leaks say is occurring. This is the same political side that was decrying leaks about Hillary Clinton during the campaign. I believe that leaks from the intelligence community are very damaging to the democratic process of our political system. We have seen scripts of conversations between President Trump and the Prime Minister of Australia leaked. The same leaker(s) gave the media the script of the conversation between the President of the United States and the President of Mexico. Can you imagine the outrage on the left if someone had been leaking similar conversations President Obama had with foreign leaders. The source of these leaks are obviously some in the intelligence community that disagree with the President’s foreign and domestic policies. But if they can do that to President Trump they can do it to any President. You may applaud it now but you will be outraged if it occurs to a President you support. It simply cannot happen. Point to Trump.
Trump repeatedly bashed the press and after a while this starts to wear old. As I stated, it is red meat for his base, but it will eventually turn off independents and the Democrats that he won over in the election. Relations between a politician, particularly the President, will always be adverse. I would also say that the press is showing a definite bias against Trump. They worshipped at the alter of Barrack Obama and were prepared to do the same with Hillary Clinton. But the President has to get above the fray and ignore this as much as possible. He has to grow a thicker skin when they attack him. Point to press.
Jake Turx with the Orthodox Jewish Ami Magazine brought up the issue of anti-semitism. He, in my opinion, correctly stated that he did not believe that Trump was personally anti-Semitic but noted that there has been an increase in threats to Jews and synagogues. Trump failed this question badly. He called it repulsive. What he needed to do was state very clearly that he was not biased against Jews but should also acknowledge that there were people in this country that obviously are anti-semitic and may have supported him during the election but they would not be tolerated under his administration. Point to the press.
What President Trump has to realize is that he will be scrutinized with everything he says and he cannot come to a press conference with out correct facts. When he makes small mistakes like on the Electoral College vote totals it undermines his credibility. It certainly appeared that he was enjoying himself yesterday but that does not mean he walked out of the press conference victorious. He was not knocked out but also did not win a decision over the press. Should he continue to have these free wheeling press conferences he has a chance to win in the end but he has to be better briefed and not give in to personal attacks, both from him and on him.