I have written before about the extreme difficulty the mainstream news media has in interviewing Donald Trump because they are simply not equipped to handle a liar as bold and prodigious as he is. In many ways, in his on-going war with the media, Trump is doing a great impression of the American colonists in their Revolutionary War with the British Kingdom; he is playing by no set rules, while they are still restricted by the traditional way of engaging in combat.
If seen in that context, Trump emerged from his first interview since becoming president uninjured, and probably even stronger than when he went into it. Meanwhile, ABC’s David Muir was left for the White House staff to scrap off the floor after he got almost completely steamrolled by the new president. I was quite surprised to see this happen because Muir usually seems up to this kind of challenge.
While we may argue this wasn’t his job, Muir never came close to drawing blood from Trump. Time and again he offered either weak or nonexistent follow-up questions before allowing Trump to make borderline insane statements with virtual no contradiction and then quickly moving on to something else where the exact same pattern repeated itself.
Here were the subjects where Muir most blatantly missed opportunities due to his unwillingness or inability to even get a straight answer out of Trump before he decided to meekly move on to his next line of inquiry:
- Trump’s claim that his obsession with the size of the Inaugural crowd is because the media demeaned his people and he is just defending their honor.
- His CIA speech was a “home run,” and if you watched Fox News you would know that.
- So-called “DREAMERS” should have little fear of being deported, even though that was a major campaign promise of Trump’s.
- Trump’s overtly absurd theory that at least 3-5 million votes were cast illegally, all of them for Hillary Clinton, thus costing him the popular vote, which he would have won easily if he had simply tried to.
- His blaming of the news media for why the author of the Pew study Trump erroneously cited doesn’t remotely back him on illegal voting.
- Trump’s non-answer about what the heck he meant about sending in the “feds” to stop the violence in Chicago.
- Trump’s double answer on torture which somehow allowed him to safely take both sides of the issue.
- Trump’s non-answer on whether his fix for Obamacare will effectively be government-run “universal” healthcare.
- Trump completely backing away from his outrageous campaign/debate promise to “lock up” Hillary Clinton and suddenly pretending like he has nothing to do with the whole issue (which happens to finally be the right answer).
Time, as it usually is with Trump interviews, seems to have been the root cause for why Trump was so easily able to use Muir to his advantage for most of the hour which aired in primetime on ABC. It was clear that Muir simply tried to accomplish way too much in what was probably a rather limited allotment of time (we have to leave plenty of time for the Oval Office tour and that Obama letter!).
Clearly afraid of being criticized for missing some of the many critical issues which are in the news as of late (a circumstance which always plays to the advantage of the controversial Trump), Muir never drilled deeply enough on any one of them and therefore never struck oil. Not even when the subject was the President’s statement to the CIA that we should have taken Iraq’s oil and that we still might, for which Muir once again offered no follow-up to Trump’s extremely problematic answer.
Remarkably, in a testament to how Trump actually benefits from having SO many potential areas of legitimate inquiry constantly surrounding him, Muir somehow decided not to ask him anything at all about the financial conflicts of interest, allegations that Russia has compromising information on him, or why he has broken his campaign promise to release his tax returns when he won. I realize he only had so much time, but the idea that neither of those subjects warranted even one question for a president unlikely to give many press conferences is both shocking and depressing as hell.
It is very obvious now that the only way to get anything truly interesting/damaging out of Trump is for the interviewer to decide and accept that there may only be one major subject. Jake Tapper of CNN is the only one who seemed hip to this strategy when he was relentless on the “Mexican Judge” issue in the Trump University lawsuit (the $25 settlement of which, amazingly, Trump has never been forced to answer questions about) and revealed Trump at his worst.
Unless an interviewer is willing to go this route, Trump will always end up the “winner” because he is an expert at sticking to his guns, sucking up time, deflecting criticism, saying things which distract from the original inquiry, and, when needed, simply lying. Since he now has his own network to go to at will (Fox News) with no fear of aggressive questioning, I doubt there will be too many more opportunities for adversarial interrogation.
Overall, this was yet another media event where Trump’s critics will think that he was further exposed as an insecure, unhinged lunatic who is not remotely suited to be president of the United States, but where his cult-like following will think he was TREMENDOUS (heck, even I thought that, minus the fits of insanity, that Trump came off as well in some ways as I have ever seen him). What the news media has been incredibly slow to realize is that Trump only really cares about appealing to his base of support and there is zero doubt that they loved seeing Trump the politically incorrect strong man completely dominate a wussy member of the “fake news” media.
Interestingly, Trump telegraphed this incredibly telling strategy with what was probably both his most ludicrous and yet, in his world, truthful statement of the entire interview. While justifying having unfairly discredited the American electoral system with his ridiculous notion that millions of people voted illegally, Trump said, “You know what’s really important? Millions of people agree with me when I say that.”
It is time for us all to accept that, as long as Trump is president, we are officially living in a country where the validity of a statement is not based in facts, truth, or logic, but rather on whether Trump’s supporters believe it. After last night, I can assure you they believe in him more than they ever have.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.