At his first press conference since late July—when he infamously called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton—he praised Vladimir Putin, attacked Clinton and the DNC, argued that Russian hacking was ultimately a good thing, mocked those who want him to disclose his tax returns, said he legally couldn’t have conflicts of interest, bragged about turning down a $2 billion bribe, effectively melded his company with the United States government, repeatedly attacked American intelligence agencies, and shouted down CNN reporter Jim Acosta, telling him his organization was “fake news” for posting a story about intelligence reports claiming that members of Trump’s inner circle were in contact with Russian intelligence officials. (Trump’s strategy seemed to be to use BuzzFeed’s story, which included allegations of Trump paying prostitutes to pee on a bed, as cover to attack CNN’s more solid story.)
It was, in short, a circus—the polar opposite of Barack Obama’s dignified farewell address last night. Trump was borderline incoherent, steamrolling reasonable questions and routinely dismissing every concern about the links between his businesses and his presidency and Russia. He badgered, he pushed back, and he deflected, but he rarely answered any question in a satisfying way, instead treating the media as hostile actors bent on undermining his presidency. At one point he called BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage,” saying that they will “suffer the consequences.” He was petty and tyrannical—every open question about his presidency is still open.
Trump’s press conference was also, however, a lesson for the media, which largely did a poor job. Members of the press often asked two- or three-part questions, allowing Trump to avoid answering tougher questions and focus on easier ones. When Acosta was shouted down, the rest of the press let him flounder and moved on. Acosta’s question was asked by an ABC reporter, but that doesn’t necessarily excuse the response from the rest of the scrum. In the future, those covering Trump need to ask simpler and more direct questions and to provide cover for one another to prevent him from playing favorites. That will be difficult given the makeup of the press corps—Trump took a question from a Breitbart reporter—but the media has to adjust.