The Donald Trump who took questions from reporters Tuesday in his first press conference as President-elect was the same combative, short-tempered figure the American public saw on the 2016 campaign trail, down to the red power tie.
The President-elect personally dressed-down a CNN reporter in scathing terms. He limited his comments on what a replacement plan for Obamacare would look like to a vague promise to “repeal and replace” the healthcare law “essentially simultaneously.” His responses were cheered on enthusiastically by a small group of staffers.
In short, two months after winning the White House in a historic upset and nine days out from Inauguration Day, Trump appeared no closer to adhering to the norms that have traditionally regulated the office he is poised to assume.
Russell Riley, associate professor at the University of Virginia’s nonpartisan Miller Center of presidential scholarship, told TPM that Trump’s remarks demonstrated a “personalization that you just do not see in the history of the presidency.”
“There’s no question that the candidate was elected largely because he was seen as someone who was willing to be confrontational and willing to explode a lot of the norms of American politics,” Riley said. “I think the voters found that appealing because there was a sense that he would take that approach with him into the office.”
“But I think there also has been an expectation that at some point those inclinations to blow up norms would be converted in service of a specific set of programs—that the destruction of what went before would eventually give way to the construction of what he expects to do once he’s in office,” he continued.
Little of the press conference was devoted to laying out a policy vision. There were few comments about working with Congress on healthcare, an overarching foreign policy strategy or a job creation plan.
Instead, Trump spoke in broad terms about his intention to be “the greatest jobs producer that God ever created” and to create a healthcare system that is “far less expensive and far better” than Obamacare. Asked about the plan his lawyer outlined in the presser for disentangling himself from the Trump Organization, Trump gave himself credit for turning down “$2 billion to do a deal in Dubai” with Middle Eastern developer Hussein Damack, who he deemed “a friend of mine, great guy.”
“The language that Trump will bring into the office is very different than that of most presidents, who have certainly been cheerleaders for themselves, but still much more measured and operating in a kind of collective discourse rather than a kind of I, I, I discourse where it’s all about him,” Bruce Miroff, a political science professor and expert on the U.S. presidency at the University of Albany, told TPM.
These experts on the presidency also noted that the antagonism Trump continues to display towards the U.S. intelligence community and the media is unprecedented.
While the President-elect began the press conference by saying he has “great respect for the news,” he later tore into reporters from CNN and BuzzFeed. He refused to respond to questions from CNN’s Jim Acosta because the publication on Tuesday published a report that U.S. officials had presented Trump with documents alleging Russian operatives have “compromising personal and financial information” about him. He also labeled BuzzFeed a “pile of garbage” for publishing a 35-page dossier that the news site said had served as the source material for the summary intelligence officials gave Trump.
The Miller Center’s Riley called the President-elect’s barbed exchange with Acosta “genuinely unprecedented.”
Miroff noted that hostility to the press was a hallmark of Trump’s campaign, and that those who expected to see a marked shift in his behavior over the course of the transition will likely be disappointed by the Trump who assumes the office of the presidency next week.
“I think Donald Trump has one mode,” he said. “That is the kind of Trump as a larger-than-life figure who [sees himself] doing tremendous, beautiful, great things, and on the other hand is surrounded by vicious enemies who will do everything to tear him down.”