President Donald Trump isn’t a happy camper these days. He’s reportedly annoyed at how his trip to Paris went over the weekend, frustrated with the increasingly bad outcome for Republicans at the ballot box last week and itching to make changes in his senior staff.
Bunkered in, Trump turned to a friendly face – the conservative news website Daily Caller, which he sat down with on Wednesday to talk about the state of his White House. I went through the transcript – points to the Daily Caller for releasing it! – and picked out the lines worth some more attention. They’re below.
1. “I’m looking at things and I’ve got a lot of options.”
Trump on his Cabinet. Also, away we go!
2. “You know, you’re talking about a few names, you’re not talking about many.”
Here Trump is trying to downplay the amount of turnover at the Cabinet level in his administration. But as I detailed on Wednesday, he has lost as many Cabinet secretaries (nine) as President Barack Obama lost in his entire first term and more than double the number (four) President George W. Bush lost in his first four years.
3. “Uh, we’ve been doing incredibly on trade deals and trade with my whole staff of traders, because that’s what they are.”
“Staff of Traders” would be a good name for a Jimmy Buffett band. Or the first novel in an epic series about the search for a long-lost staff known in ancient lore as the “Staff of Traders.”
4. “I knew him only as he pertained, you know, as he was with Jeff Sessions.”
“I don’t know Matt Whitaker.” – Donald Trump, November 9, 2018
“I can tell you Matt Whitaker’s a great guy. I know Matt Whitaker.” – Donald Trump, October 11, 2018
5. ” It’s an illegal investigation.”
This is simply wrong. Trump continues to insist that a leaked memo, written by fired FBI Director James Comey and sent to the media at his behest, which is widely regarded as having triggered the special counsel investigation, contained classified information. Since leaking classified information is illegal, then this whole probe is illegal. Get it? (I explain in MUCH greater detail here.) But here’s the rub: Comey has testified – under oath – that the memo he asked his friend to leak contained zero classified information in it. So to believe Trump, you have to believe Comey is lying under oath – which is a felony.
6. “And you know, it’s very interesting because when you talk about not Senate confirmed, well, Mueller’s not Senate confirmed.”
What Trump means is that Robert Mueller, the former FBI director appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, was not confirmed by the Senate to that role. Of course, Rosenstein, the man who picked Mueller, was Senate-confirmed. And Mueller has been confirmed not once but twice by the Senate; in 2001 when he was nominated to head the FBI by George W. Bush, and then again in 2011. A total of zero senators voted against Mueller’s confirmation in those votes. There is, on the other hand, a significant legal argument as to whether Whitaker, who is currently the acting attorney general, can hold that position without Senate confirmation as he oversees people, like Rosenstein, who have it.
7. “He’s just a grandstander. He’s just an average guy who’s a grandstander. And he’s got the guts to stand up and, you know, and shout.”
This is Trump’s take on my CNN colleague Jim Acosta. I don’t agree with Trump on Acosta, obviously, But even if you do, the problem for Trump is that being a “grandstander” isn’t cause to restrict Acosta’s speech rights. You don’t have to like the way Acosta asks questions to understand that the White House is not allowed to ban reporters from covering the White House and its taxpayer-funded employees because they don’t like the questions a certain reporter asks.
8. “It’s primarily led by CNN because they pay him to do that.”
CNN pays Acosta to ask tough and probing questions of the White House and the President. Which is what every news organization pays their White House reporters to do. Or at least it should be.
9. “Certainly, you shouldn’t be able to go up into a White House and, on principle, it’s very disrespectful to the rest of the press.”
Again, simply not approving of Acosta’s methods of question-asking is not grounds for the suspension of his ability to ask questions.
10. “He was very rude to the young lady. I won’t, I won’t even — who knows. Who knows.”
Classic Trump here. He seems to be insinuating that Acosta did something nefarious in regard to the female intern who was trying to take the mic from him. But he doesn’t elaborate because truth isn’t on his side. Watch the video. it’s clear Acosta never, as the White House originally insisted, assaulted the intern or anything close to it.
11. “You guys are at my rallies all the time, you see the anger when I mention the words ‘fake news’ and they turn around.”
I wonder if all the peoples’ anger directed toward the media and Trump’s rallies has anything to do with him insisting reporters are the most dishonest and bad people he has ever met and then falsely accusing them of purposely making “fake news?” Just a theory.
12. “I actually have good approval ratings, which nobody ever writes.”
Trump’s approval in Real Clear Politics’ aggregate of polling is 43%. It’s among the lowest for any president at this point in their first terms.
13. “You know, all my life I told this story, had stories on the front page. A few, not a big deal. Which wasn’t bad, you know, maybe seven, but, you know, a few. And, you know, now if I have a few each day it’s surprisingly low.”
So, so revealing. As I have said and written many times, no one is more obsessed with the media or a bigger consumer of the media’s product that Donald Trump. Always has been. Can you imagine any other president talking, out of the blue, about how many stories on the front page of a newspaper are about him – or remembering how many were about him before he was president?
14. “I may be. I may be. I’ll have to see how it plays out. But I may very well be willing to shut down the government.”
I am sure this will warm Mitch McConnell’s heart to hear!
15. “They can do presidential harassment, put very simply, and I’ll be very good at handling that and I think I’ll be better than anybody in the history of this office.”
Donald Trump: Even the best at handling presidential harassment. Many people are saying it.
16. “Just like the witch hunt, the Mueller witch hunt. It’s pure harassment.”
If you define “witch hunt” as 191 criminal counts, 35 people and entities charged, six people who have pleaded guilty, one person who was found guilty at trial and three people who have been sentenced to prison, then, yes, this is a witch hunt.
17. “There’s a great chance at comprehensive immigration reform”
[narrator voice] No, there isn’t.
18. “Where I am now, when they have a small majority, I can sit back and say, ‘Hey.’”
19. “This is a problem in California that’s so bad of illegals voting. This is a California problem and if you notice, almost every race – I was watching today – out of like 11 races that are in question they’re gonna win all of them.”
There is zero evidence that the reason Democrats are winning House races in California has to do with “illegals voting,” as Trump alleges. If you really want to know why it takes a while to count all the votes cast last Tuesday, read Mark Z. Barabak’s explainer.
20. “The Republicans don’t win and that’s because of potentially illegal votes, which is what I’ve been saying for a long time. I have no doubt about it.”
He may have no doubt about it but he also has no evidence that proves his claim of illegal votes being cast. Remember that Trump alleged that 3-5 million illegal votes had been cast in the 2016 election. He never provided any proof for that claim.
21. “Sometimes they go to their car, put on a different hat, put on a different shirt, come in and vote again. Nobody takes anything. It’s really a disgrace what’s going on.”
I know I sound like a broken record but, outside of Trump’s anecdote that he knows people who have seen this happen, there’s no evidence it happens in any widespread or even medium-spread manner.
22. “The disgrace is that, voter ID. If you buy, you know, a box of cereal, if you do anything, you have a voter ID.”
23. “If you look at what happened in New Hampshire, where thousands of people came up and voted from a very liberal part of Massachusetts and they came up in buses and they voted. I said, ‘what’s going on over here,’ my people said, ‘you won New Hampshire easily except they have tremendous numbers of buses coming up.’ “
Trump made this baseless claim in February 2017. And it’s still baseless!
24. “I think they should’ve called Florida election evening.”
But if they did that then not all of the votes would have been counted, much less recount … ah, forget it.
25. “I mean, if there’s anything really that I would be – because, again, in the 2016 election, you guys remember, remember how long it took to get Florida?”
According to this terrific election night 2016 timeline from The Guardian, Florida was called for Trump at 10:53 p.m. – less than three hours after the polls closed across the state. Not bad given that 9.1 million votes were cast in the presidential race in the state.
26. “And I won by, you know, I won by a lot of votes. I call it four Yankee Stadiums.”
This is an intriguing new measurement that Trump is introducing. Yankee Stadium seats 54,251 people. So, in saying he won Florida in 2016 by four Yankee Stadiums, Trump is saying he won Florida by 217,004 votes. He actually won by 122,911 votes. Using this measure, Trump is alleging that somewhere between 55 Yankee Stadiums 92 Yankee Stadiums voted illegally in the 2016 election. Of course, he has zero actual evidence that any Yankee Stadiums voted illegally.
27. “I think I did very well.”
This is Trump’s answer to the question of how he think the election went. First off, notice the emphasis on “I” rather than on the Republican Party or the country. Telling. Second, there’s very few objective measures where Trump can say he did “very well.” His party lost the House. They netted one – and potentially two – Senate seats in the best map for Republicans in modern memory. They lost six governorships and hundreds of state legislative seats. The 2018 election wasn’t a tsunami for Democrats, but it was a wave.
28. “So we picked up three or four Senate seats depending on how it all goes – it’s a big pickup.”
Nope. Senate Republicans have netted one Senate seat. If the Florida result holds, and I suspect it will, they will net two seats. That’s it.
29. “But she didn’t question strongly, so I’m not going to, but I think that was very odd the way that all happened in Arizona.”
Trump was insistent on Twitter that voter fraud was happening in Arizona. Republican Rep. Martha McSally didn’t agree. She conceded earlier this week to Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, likely with an eye on maybe joining Sinema in the Senate in the near future.
30. “In the history of politics nobody’s ever gotten crowds like that or close because you were in those stadiums and those arenas, but outside you had many more times – you know, in Houston we had 109,000 people sign up for 22,000 seats.”
It’s very difficult to substantiate these claims that Trump had the biggest crowds in the history of politics during the 2018 campaign. I will note, however, that more than 75,000 attended an Oregon rally for Barack Obama in 2008.
31. “The truth is, every place I went, we either won or did well or did really well.”
Broadly true! No question that Trump helped GOP candidates in Florida, Missouri in Indiana win Senate seats.
32. “If I didn’t do those stops, I think we would’ve lost 10 Senate seats, seven to 10 Senate seats.”
Mathematically impossible, since Republicans were only defending nine Senate seats in 2018. Also, of the nine, only one was in a state Trump lost in 2016. And a Democrat won that one – beating Republican Sen. Dean Heller.
33. “Nobody has ever had a greater impact.”
In which the President claims that no one – I assume he means no politician or president – has ever had a greater positive impact on a midterm election. This is somewhat in the eye of the beholder but, just in the recent past, I would suggest George W. Bush’s handling of the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks had more of a positive effect on the GOP’s wins in 2002 than what Trump did in 2018.
34. “It was 70 to 30, something like that, 70-30 or 70-40, maybe 70-40. But it was an easy win.”
Trump is talking about Brian Kemp’s victory in the Georgia governor’s primary. Also, elections are based on 100%. So Kemp definitely didn’t win 70-40.
35. “There’s never been an impact – I don’t say it braggingly. I mean, it’s hard for me to say it because I’d rather have them say it but they don’t say it very well. No, there’s never been a story, nobody ever writes it.”
He doesn’t say it braggingly, you see.
36. “Pretty impressive if I do say so myself.”
This feels like the right place to end.