THE BLOG
09/11/2018 11:39 GMT | Updated 09/11/2018 11:39 GMT

Donald Trump's Latest Press Conference Showed A President Quaking In His Boots

When Trump was asked what lesson he took from his midterm losses, how did he respond? ‘I’ll be honest: I think it was a great victory…I think people like me.’

JIM WATSON via Getty Images

Thursday’s New York Times: “Trump Vows ‘Warlike Posture’ if Democrats Investigate Him.”

Likewise The Guardian: “Trump issues threat of warlike response after Democrat gains.”

The Financial Times, on the other hand: “Trump urges bipartisan approach as Democrats take control of the House.”

So which was true, and which was Fake News? Both, of course, were true, because Trump said both. And it’s another reason why we should now surely know better than to take seriously anything he says.

Much better to concentrate on what he actually does rather than on his Rant of the Day. And by far the most important thing he did on Wednesday was fire his attorney-general, Jeff Sessions, who has enraged him for months by failing to halt the Mueller inquiry into his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia in the period leading up to the 2016 presidential election.

Was the decision to get rid of Sessions designed to shut down, or at the very least hobble, the inquiry? What do you think?

What’s more, within hours of Trump’s chaotic, nasty press conference, with the president at his snarling worst, the White House suspended the credentials of an admittedly grandstanding CNN correspondent whom the president had called ‘a rude, terrible person’ for daring to challenge him. It was yet another petty response from a man who will never be able to get his head round the idea that the job of journalists is to do just a bit more than sing his praises all day. The White House also distributed what seems to have been a doctored video to bolster its allegation that the correspondent, Jim Acosta, ‘touched’ a female White House staffer as she tried to wrestle his mic away from him.

What I saw as I watched the Trump press conference was a President who is sh*t scared. Scared of what a Democrat-controlled House of Representatives could start prying into (Tax returns? Conflicts of interest as visiting foreign dignitaries ‘choose’ to buy accommodation at Trump properties?), scared of subpoenas that House committees can now issue, and scared, above all, of what the Mueller investigation might come up with.

Trump claimed – wrongly, of course ― on Wednesday that the Mueller investigation ‘got nothing, zero.’ Nothing, that is, except for his former personal lawyer and consigliere Michael Cohen pleading guilty to campaign finance violations and other charges; his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort being convicted of filing false tax returns, failing to disclose offshore bank accounts and bank fraud; his former deputy campaign chairman Rick Gates pleading guilty to lying to investigators; his former national security adviser Michael Flynn pleading guilty to lying to the FBI about his Russia contacts; and twelve Russian intelligence officers being indicted by a federal grand jury, accused of hacking into Democratic Party computer networks. (I’ve probably left a few out, but I think you’ll have got the point.)

And here’s where the Democrats will have to get canny. They could, if they so wish, go after Trump on a dozen different fronts, tie him up in Congressional and judicial knots for the next two years and make his life an absolute misery.

But if they do, how will he react? Badly, for sure. He will call them ‘enemies of the people’, ‘traitors’, and much worse. He will blame them for every mass shooting (‘soft on crime’), for every economic hiccup (‘high tax socialists’) and every act of terrorism (‘soft on illegal migrants’).

He will challenge every attempt to rein in his most dangerously autocratic impulses, and if his challenges end up in the Supreme Court, he may very well win. (Remember how hard he fought for the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh? Funny, that …)

And when he seeks re-election in 2020, he will run, as he did in 2016, as the Champion of the Little People, against the elitist liberals who have hated him – and his supporters – from day one. And you know what? He could win again.

Far better, surely, for the Democrats to focus on the things that really could make a difference to voters’ lives: health care, which was a major issue in this week’s elections; opioid drug addiction; rebuilding roads, bridges and airports; and gun crime.

(More than half of American voters think gun controls should be tighter, and nearly half think there would be fewer mass shootings if gun laws were tougher. The most recent tragedy was on Wednesday, just a day after the mid-terms, in Thousand Oaks, California, when a former US marine shot dead twelve people in a bar.)

Rather than start trying to impeach him – which, unless Mueller comes up with something truly earth-shattering, would be bound to fail in the Senate – it would make more sense to show voters that Democrats are better for them, their families and their country. Defeat Trump in two years’ time, and then, if there is evidence that he may have committed crimes, prosecute him as a private citizen.

When George W Bush and Barack Obama each suffered major reverses in mid-term elections in 2006 and 2010, they openly acknowledged that voters had administered what Bush called ‘a thumping’ and Obama called ‘a shellacking’.

So when Trump was asked what lesson he took from his losses on Tuesday, how did he respond? ‘I’ll be honest: I think it was a great victory … I think people like me.’