A Review of Stephanopoulos’s Amazing and Yet Still Squandered ’30 Hours’ Interview with Trump

Trump's 30 Hours Interview With ABC News' George Stephanopoulos

For the first time since, by my accounting, last fall, President Donald Trump agreed to a sit-down television interview with a non-friendly news personality. Trump spent “30 Hours” (not really) with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, and the results were extraordinary, though not nearly as bad for him as they should have been.

In short, this interview, while it included elements which would have badly damaged any other president, was actually a win for Trump. Meanwhile, Stephanopoulos inadvertently provided Trump with almost everything for which he could have asked.

Here are my many takeaways from last night’s hour-long special on the interview:

Amazing Access: At first glance, it may have appeared crazy for Trump to give Stephanopoulos, a former strategist for Bill Clinton, so much time to be able to dig into several previously under-examined topics in-depth. However, the gambit worked like a charm for Trump as the Good Morning America host felt obligated to spend half the hour on “fluff” stuff, which only served to make Trump seem, at least by his standards, very presidential.

Meanwhile, despite all his incredible access, Stephanopoulos still failed to get to the heart of several important matters. In fact, twice during the special the ABC host was shown telling Trump that he didn’t have time to get into how inaccurate his previous statement was, thus effectively letting Trump off the hook.

Trump Lies About Polling: The president seemingly lied when he told Stephanopoulos that the reports of internal Trump campaign polling showing him losing big to Joe Biden were false. We know this because Trump is now firing some of the pollsters involved in the apparent leak of polling data which Trump claimed didn’t even exist.

Trump’s Health/Appearance: The revelation that Trump only sleeps 4-5 hour a night and then doesn’t have any breakfast may explain the brain-dead nature of a lot of early morning tweets. However, it is still difficult to understand how the president of the United States, a former reality television star, could appear in such a big interview with one of the worst spray tans imaginable.

Healthcare Back on the Agenda: Trump made it clear that he is going to run for re-election on the promise of finally replacing Obamacare. Politically, this is a terrible idea, one which surely has every Republican running also running next year extremely nervous.

Mueller Report: While Trump’s obsession with, and constant lying about, the Mueller report shows a clear consciousness of guilt, Stephanopoulos, in general, did a poor job of fully exposing the president on this subject. This mostly happened because Trump outwitted Stephanopoulos by telling so many lies that the interviewer didn’t feel like he could get sidetracked by confronting all of them, and by getting him to accept false premises which allowed the president to escape and mitigate tough subjects.

While Stephanopoulos attempted to push back on Trump’s constant claim that Mueller found “no collusion” (at times the conversation seemed like a parent trying to convince their child that their favorite fairytale isn’t really true), there were many moments when Trump was easily able to escape the noose on the Russia investigation. Here are just a few:

  • Trump, twice claiming, very dubiously, that he read the Mueller report without being tested at all on it.
  • Trump admitting, and giving a super lame excuse for, having tried to build a Trump Tower in Moscow during the campaign and lying about (an important exchange, bizarrely, which didn’t even make it into the primetime special).
  • Trump excusing his lack of an interview with Mueller because of fear of a perjury trap based on what he said had very unfairly had happened to others in the investigation. Stephanopoulos never pinned him down for an actual example, nor did he point out that if you simply tell the truth there is no concern about perjury (a topic, as a former top Clinton staffer, on which he would have had great credibility).
  • When Trump tried to use his written answers to Mueller as proof he cooperated with the investigation, Stephanopoulos never pointed out that Mueller found those responses to be “inadequate,” or that Trump, absurdly, said 37 times that he could not remember key events.
  • Trump made the crazy claim that “the crime was committed by Comey,” which Stephanopoulos somehow allowed to go un-refuted or un-questioned.
  • When Trump whined that “nobody in the history of the country has been so mistreated,” Stephanopoulos somehow allowed that giant whopper to stand uncontested.

Taking Opposition Research from Foreign a Government: I may be in a small minority on this one, but I believe that the clip from these interviews which made the most news actually played out far better for Trump than it should have, and maybe was even a small win for him. That is because Trump was able to radically alter the reality of the Russia situation through the use of horrendous comparisons, which the ABC host inexplicably accepted.

Trump, rather brilliantly, posed a theoretical of a congressman getting opposition research from Norway. That analogy is 100% irrelevant to a presidential candidate getting far more than just “opposition research” from Russia.

In fact, the entire exchange played right into Trump’s hands by seemingly greatly mitigating what Russia did (specifically the DNC hacking and a significant social media campaign) on behalf of Trump’s election effort as only offering up “opposition research.” Because the vast majority of the viewers of this interview have, much like probably Trump himself, not read the Mueller report, this false premise was quite helpful to Trump.

Nick Mulvaney’s Cough: Ironically, and tellingly, the worst moment for Trump politically in the entire special may have been one which had absolutely nothing to do with Stephanopoulos. While bragging about how great his financial statements are, Trump stopped the interview taping because a soundbite that he clearly wanted ABC to use was interrupted by Mick Mulvaney, his acting chief of staff, coughing.

There were two notable aspects of this very strange moment. The first was that it appeared that Trump was acting like he himself was “directing” the interview as if it was an episode of The Apprentice. The second was that, while clearly not joking about his displeasure, Trump came off like a flaming jackass.

Final Grades: For what Trump was trying to accomplish and to whom he was trying to appeal, the president gets a B+. Stephanopoulos, being graded based on what he could and should have achieved with such unbelievable access and incredibly fertile subject matters, gets just a C-.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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