Analysis: How Trump ‘rants and Raves' and Flashes Political Genius

WASHINGTON - No one gets to be president by accident, and Thursday's combative news conference showed how Donald Trump got the job -- and his capacity to hang onto it.Detractors watched in horror, gnashing at his denial of turmoil and accusing him of an outrageous indifference to reality.Plenty has been said and written along those lines, so let's assess his performance another way - as the 48 percent of Americans who put him in power might assess it. The voters who admired Trump for "telling it like it is" didn't send him to Washington to observe traditional norms of presidential discourse.For that target audience, there was much to see here that was effective and strategic.Denial or spin?Trump's young presidency has been marred by missteps - a bungled immigration ban struck down in court, a cabinet nominee withdrawn, a national security adviser fired 24 days into the job. In Congress, even many Republicans want probes of contacts between Trump aides and Russian spies. Stories of dysfunction in the West Wing have exploded onto front pages."I turn on the T.V., open the newspapers and I see stories of chaos. Chaos. Yet it is the exact opposite," Trump insisted.He seemed to be betting that tales of palace intrigue haven't sunk in with middle America."This administration is running like a fine- tuned machine, despite the fact that I can't get my cabinet approved."Betting on short attention spansThat was one of several times that Trump complained that Democrats have stalled his nominations. And yet in the same news conference, he boasted that he's managed to assemble a team faster than any president to come before him."We're setting a record or close to a record in the time of approval of a cabinet," he said. "I mean, the numbers are crazy. When I'm looking, some of them had them approved immediately."Set aside the contradiction. The casual viewer may not have noticed. Focus on the points scored:The Trump administration works.Democrats are bad.Trump employed the same technique - blatant contradiction - regarding leaks that contradicted national security adviser Michael Flynn's denials that he'd discussed sanctions with Russian leaders before Trump took office, and other leaks exposing tense calls between Trump and counterparts in Mexico and Australia."The leaks are real.... The leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake," he said.Orwell might have called this doublethink. In Trump's telling, blame for scandal and fallout lies with the media, not with a lying adviser or the guy who hired him.Press bashingThe White House summoned the press corps to the East Room on one hour's notice. He's keeping us on our toes and feeding the beast, even if it's a beast he scorns."The press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control," Trump said.It's an important gesture for a president to engage with the news media. Tyrants don't tolerate dissent or impertinence. Granted, it's more a mixed message when much of that engagement centers on bashing."I certainly didn't win by people listening to you people," he sneered at the journalists filling the East Room. "Tomorrow, they will say, `Donald Trump rants and raves at the press.' I'm not ranting and raving. I'm just telling you. You know, you're dishonest people."After complaining repeatedly about the "fake news" emanating from CNN and other news outlets, Trump intensified his mockery."I'm changing it from `fake news,'" he said, bantering with CNN's Jim Acosta. The new label: "Very fake news."Taking credit, deflecting blameIn Trump's telling, he's already making America great, or at least better. Whatever still ails the nation you can blame on someone else. "I didn't come along and divide this country. This country was seriously divided before I got here," he said.By most measures, Trump is the most polarizing and unpopular president in modern history. Yet his appeal to a large segment of the public can't be denied. For his supporters, he offered a message likely to resonate. Chaos? That wasn't me."To be honest, I inherited a mess. It's a mess. At home and abroad -- a mess," he said. "We have made incredible progress. I don't think there's ever been a president elected who in this short period of time has done what we've done."  Continue reading...

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