Every time Donald Trump performs in front of the cameras, we catch a glimpse of the kind of president he'd be. The chauvinism, the vulgarity, the bullying, the bigotry – that's who Trump is. He's also a score-settling narcissist, a man who will use his power and influence to punish as many people as possible.
Trump's combustible insecurity animates his entire public life. Whether on the set of a reality show or a debate stage, he's always defending his brand, always lashing out at perceived threats. And that's what happened Tuesday morning in the lobby of Trump Tower when the presumptive Republican nominee called a press conference to answer questions about his fundraising efforts on behalf of veterans.
Recall that in January Trump was feuding with Fox News and consequently skipped one of the network's presidential debates. In lieu of debating, Trump held a fundraiser that night and claimed to have raised millions of dollars for veteran groups. Increasingly, reporters have been asking for specifics about that night – How much was raised? Where did the money go? What charities were involved?
So the ostensible purpose of T news conference was to address these questions, which were fueled by The Washington Post report explaining that the funds didn't materialize after the event. But that's not what happened. Instead, Trump let loose a forty minute tantrum about the press, nearly all of whom dared to do their jobs by looking into the fundraising claims. “You're a sleaze,” he told one reporter for ABC. “You're a real beauty,” he told another male reporter for CNN.
And on and on he went.
“The press should be ashamed at themselves, and on behalf of the vets, the press should be ashamed of themselves....Instead of being like, Thank you very much, Mr. Trump,' or Trump did a good job,' everyone said: 'Who got it? Who got it? Who got it?” Trump complained. “And you make me look very bad. I have never received such bad publicity for doing a good job.”
Curiously, Trump's beef was that the media forced him to take credit for raising money for the troops. “I could have asked all these groups to come here and I didn't want to do that. I'm not looking for credit.” This is a strange objection, as holding and promoting a televised event on the night of a presidential debate to announce your raising money for the troops seems a lot like taking credit. And yet Trump implied that was him keeping a low profile, and that the rapacious media has now forced him to disclose his charitable donations. This is nonsense, and a failed attempt to taunt the press. It is, however, consistent with Trump's broader campaign strategy, which thrives on an antagonism between him and the political class.
In any event, Trump's handling of Tuesday's ne conference is an unneeded reminder of how unfit for office he is. “Any American political candidate who attacks the press for doing its job is campaigning in the wrong country,” said Thomas Burr, president of the National Press Club. But that's what Trump does – attack the press and anyone else who undercuts his brand management.
Deflecting attention onto the media is doubly rewarding for Trump. It feeds into his anti-establishment narrative and, more importantly, ensures he dominates the headlines for yet another news cycle. He also can't help himself: a child-like aversion to the faintest criticism is part of Trump's psychological DNA. And that shimmering insecurity would be the defining characteristic of his presidency. Indeed, as The New York Times noted, when a reported asked if his “demeanor” Tuesday “was an indication of what White House news conferences would be like if he were elected,” Trump replied: “Yes, it is. It is going to be like this.”
And I believe him.