All journalists have had to sit through some mad or bad press conferences. My personal favourites were the ones when Tony Blair came to Scotland before he was Prime Minister to be set about by the press-pack in a manner that he initially found puzzling. The new Labour leader was forever being accused of backsliding on devolution and in time developed a nice line in mockery of the Scottish hacks, particularly of those with beards. Taking questions he once requested “the beard on the left, then the beard on the right” to the amusement of reporters.
But nothing in the field of press conferences compares to what we just witnessed on television beamed live from Trump Tower. Donald Trump’s performance was terrible. It was embarrassing for America. He was narcissistic, unreliable, incoherent and very, very, very (what’s the word Trump would use?) bad, or not great.
It would be a mistake to think that it will make any difference to anything, however. If incoherence and boasting were going to do Trump the slightest bit of harm then he would not have won the Republican nomination in the first place and would never have won the presidency. This press conference was, in that sense, merely a grisly “greatest hits” package in which he showed, again, that the traditional media structures are not configured to cope with a leader like Trump. A bunch of journalists think it was an affront and a joke? Many voters regard that as nothing surprising or worrying.
The questions asked were also often not direct or quirky enough, with reporters trying to get too much in, probably to grandstand and give the impression of importance and dominance among their peer group, other journalists.
To that end Trump provided so many newslines and sowed so much confusion that by the end the journalistic response amounted to little more than shouting and despair.
– Trump rightly attacked BuzzFeed, the reckless digital news operation that stupidly published the unsubstantiated lurid memo on his links with Russia. Predictably, all BuzzFeed succeeded in doing was enabling him – birther, conspiracy theorist, boaster – to take the moral high ground. Stupid, or sad, as he might say himself.
– Russia was behind the DNC hacking, he admitted for the first time. Or maybe not, because he then suggested it might be someone else. But he did have a mild warning for Putin, who’ll be killing himself laughing right now.
– As he prepares to become President, Trump is talking about himself in the third person. Uh-oh…
– The key point is that he did not answer the question of whether he or any of his associates had dealings with and contact with Russia during the long election campaign. He seems to have answered during his walk off stage, according to CNN and others, but this is important and requires a public statement. This allegation, of Team Trump collusion with the Russians, may yet be what does for Trump if it is confirmed.
– In unintentionally amusing scenes a lawyer was produced to read out the details of the suspect deal Trump has done with himself to prevent conflicts of interest in relation to his business, which is now handed over to his two sons. The seriousness of this effort was illustrated by a table full of a large pile of envelopes and folders. This is a Rockford Files or Murder She Wrote level of presentation and signalling. What suggests probity and legality? A pile of envelopes and folders, obviously. The suggestion of impartiality – look! a lawyer with a pile of folders! – was somewhat undermined when the lawyer concluded her long statement with an endorsement of Trump and his plans to “make America great again.”
– He runs such a great business. Such a great business. He said this repeatedly. But is it? What does it do? He owns some property, licenses his name, has some hotels. That can’t be worth anything like the $8bn he claims.
– There is the greatest spirit ever in the country, he says. People have told him this. Presumably they are his aides and supporters, so it must be true. The spirit is probably not so great among the 65,844,954 million Americans who voted for Hillary Clinton, as opposed to the 62,979,879 who voted for Trump.
– The replacing Obamacare section was hilarious. He is going to provide more health cover and it will be cheaper, and great, obviously. Trump is about to be introduced to the realities of modern health care and economics.
– The press conference was conducted in such a rambling, superficially dim-witted and boastful style that it was at points difficult to believe that it was happening and that he is about to become president. I suspect that will not bother his supporters, who will love his clear focus on getting jobs back and threatening fat cats who move their operations to Mexico. As someone pointed out, they might like it less when their car presumably costs more to purchase. That’s a few years down the line. For now he is the blunt businessman sticking up for American workers.
One final thought. Nothing the media or his opponents have tried, in terms of holding him to account, has ever worked. Indeed, the evidence of the last 24 hours is that he is still outrunning and outplaying his enemies by defying convention. No amount of media outrage makes any difference.
Where he will have a problem – beyond Russian links if that story develops – is his commitment to frankly undeliverable promises that defy economic logic. His supporters expect a surge of higher paying manufacturing jobs, a trade war with China, cheaper goods at home, lower cost and better healthcare, more government entitlements, more spending and tax cuts. Will they really be so relaxed if this populist magic potion is revealed to be snake oil by the time of the mid-term elections? We’re about to find out.
This time in nine days time he’ll be in the Oval Office and the difficult work of government begins. It is not as easy as it looks from Trump Tower.