On Wednesday, for more than an hour, President Trump stood before the press fielding questions about the midterm elections and his plans for the next two years. A normal president might have lamented his party’s loss of the House, acknowledged the humbling message from voters, and thanked Republican politicians who lost their jobs on Tuesday. But not Trump. He dismissed the public’s rebuke, stabbed his allies in the back, and threatened to escalate a legal and political war with Congress. Here’s what he said.
1. Screw Republicans, it’s all about me. In his opening remarks, Trump boasted, “We saw the candidates that I supported achieve tremendous success last night.” This was a prepared talking point, and Trump made sure to include the key words: that I supported. He went on to trash, by name, Republican candidates who had avoided him during the campaign. “They did very poorly,” Trump gloated. “I feel just fine about it. Carlos Cubela. [Trump mispronounced Curbelo’s name.] Mike Coffman. Too bad, Mike. … Mia Love gave me no love, and she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that, Mia.” Later, Trump bragged that he had forced out Republican Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona, creating an open seat. “I retired him. I’m very proud of it,” said the president.
Halfway through the press conference, a reporter told Trump, “Last night was not an absolute victory for you.” This was a laughably generous description, given the loss of the House. Instead, Trump protested that it wasn’t generous enough. “I thought it was a very close to complete victory,” he declared. Instead of thanking Republicans who had helped him on the trail, Trump complained that unlike Democrats, “I only had me, I didn’t have anybody else.” He told the press that his takeaway from the election was his own popularity: “That’s what I learned, [that] I was very well-received by this great country.” He also claimed that he “created the greatest economic success in the history of our country,” that he was responsible for the falling price of oil—“That’s because of me”—and that “I am a great moral leader.”
2. If the House investigates me, I won’t cooperate on legislation. “You can’t do them simultaneously,” Trump insisted, referring to investigation and legislation. “If they’re doing that, we’re not doing the other.” Specifically, he warned that if the House subpoenas his tax returns, he’ll launch counterinvestigations—and in that case, “government comes to a halt.” A reporter asked, “Can you compartmentalize that and still continue to work with [Democrats] for the benefit of the rest of the country?” Trump replied: “No. No.” He went on to explain how, having orchestrated this gridlock, he would blame Democrats for it: “Being in the majority, I’m just gonna blame them. You understand, I’m gonna blame them. They’re the majority. Honestly, it makes it much simpler for me.”
3. I can shut down the Russia investigation. “I could fire everybody right now,” Trump said of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. “It should have never been started, because there was no crime. … I could end it right now. I could say that investigation is over.” He claimed that everyone involved in the investigation had disqualifying conflicts of interest: “They all have conflicts over there that are beyond anything that anybody’s ever seen.” He specifically cited two conflicts he has previously attributed to Mueller: a friendship with former FBI Director James Comey, and a job interview that Mueller once had for Comey’s job. Later in the afternoon, Trump extracted a resignation letter from Attorney General Jeff Sessions, throwing the investigation’s future into doubt.
4. I won’t release my tax returns because the public wouldn’t understand them. “People don’t understand tax returns,” said Trump, explaining why he would refuse a subpoena from the House. For good measure, he repeated the insult three times.
5. Russia’s seizure of Crimea is President Obama’s fault, not Vladimir Putin’s fault. Trump boasted that when he met with Putin last year, they discussed “the fact that President Obama allowed a very large part of Ukraine to be taken.” This assertion produced the following exchange with a reporter:
Q: That was President Putin who annexed Crimea, sir.
Trump: That was President Obama’s regime. That was during President Obama, right? That was not during me.
Q: It was President Putin, sir, who did the annexation.
Trump: No, no. It was President Obama that allowed it to happen.
Later, Trump detoured from a rant about media bias to claim that if Obama’s administration had been allowed to continue into this year, “You would have had negative 4.2, instead of positive 4.2 percent growth.”
6. I have a secret plan to solve the abortion fight. A reporter asked Trump how he would “push forward your pro-life agenda” in a Democratic House. “I won’t be able to explain that to you,” Trump replied, hinting that his plan was over the reporter’s head. “But there is a solution. I think I have that solution. And nobody else does.”
7. It’s racist to ask about racism. A black reporter noted that at recent campaign rallies, Trump had declared himself a nationalist. “Some people saw that as emboldening white nationalists,” the reporter observed. Trump interrupted her: “I don’t know why you’d say that. That’s such a racist question.” The reporter tried to finish her question, but Trump shot her down. “That’s such a racist question,” he said. “That’s a racist question.”
Trump’s performance was nutty, incoherent, self-absorbed, and full of lies. In short, it was a lot like his other public appearances. But there was one difference: This time, he was speaking a day after voters attempted, through a massive purge of House Republicans, to send him and his party a message. Clearly, he’s not getting the message. The people and their representatives will have to speak louder.
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