President Trump’s first solo press conference in office was a free-wheeling, lengthy look inside the mind of the president less than four weeks into his administration.
There was news too, of course: a new immigration executive order will be unveiled next week, Trump said former national security adviser Michael Flynn was “just doing his job” and the president repeatedly claimed that he has “nothing to do with Russia,” calling assertions to the contrary "fake news" and insisting “leaks” are the real problem.
Trump also claimed Flynn stepped aside for misleading administration officials, not for his discussions of U.S. sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the transition.
Beyond those headlines of the day, Thursday's press conference shed more light on the attitude and motivations of the 45th president and how he will govern the nation the next four years.
Trump stressed that his administration is not in “chaos,” but being run like “a fine-tuned machine,” refusing to take any responsibility for the missteps and upheaval that have plagued the first month of his presidency.
“Our administration inherited many problems across government and across the economy,” he said. “To be honest, I inherited a mess. It's a mess. At home and abroad. A mess.”
Primarily, the press conference showed the president willing to take on the press in a head-on confrontation -- the man we saw almost every day on the campaign trail -- calling reporters “out of control” and “so dishonest.” The appearance showed how the president is still very much in campaign mode, bringing up his Electoral College victory and his defeat of Hillary Clinton months after the November election.
The president is also still focused on his public support, again revealing an apparent defensiveness and an insatiable appetite to take on his detractors. He repeatedly blasted reporters -- specifically CNN -- for their coverage, showing an obsession with watching how he is being portrayed in the news. He even spoke in detail about CNN’s 10 p.m. show, recalled what guests said about him and mentioned television ratings over and over.
“I just see many, many untruthful things,” Trump said of press coverage. “I'll tell you what else I see. Tone. The word tone. The tone is such hatred. I'm really not a bad person, by the way ... I do get good ratings. You have to admit that.”
The president did seem to be enjoying himself and clearly wants to continue the battle he began during the campaign with the press. It’s something his supporters like to see, but how will this combative posture and focus on the media -- instead of on policy or his agenda -- sit with voters who voted less for Donald Trump and more against Hillary Clinton?
How will the voters who cast their ballots for the issues he spoke about on the campaign trail, like jobs and helping strengthen the middle class, respond? Those are the indicators that will tell if this strategy works or not and it’s the president himself who will also be closely watching them.
The other question those voters will be asking is if this is how the president will behave and govern the next four years or if this combative period will come to an end.
The president will be back on the campaign trail this weekend, holding a very early 2020 rally on Saturday in Florida set up by his re-election campaign.
Presidents before him have rallied supporters to back their policy agenda or specific issues, but Trump is rallying backers at this early stage to also show the support he has, and likely trying to bring up those approval ratings he loves to cite.
“I heard -- just heard that the crowds are massive that want to be there,” the president said Thursday, something we are likely to hear repeated about this event and others over the entirety of this administration.