President Donald Trump’s interview with Associated Press’s Julie Pace was a doozy.
In a freewheeling conversation intended to cover Trump’s first 100 days in office, the president made wild assertions about his leadership, pushed false premises about his popularity and success, and made it explicitly clear that there are times he doesn’t know what he is talking about.
Here are some of the most bizarre moments from the interview:
Trump didn’t know much about NATO — so he said it’s “obsolete”
There were moments Trump stopped pretending. He didn’t know “much” about NATO, so he decided to make the headline-grabbing statement that it was “obsolete” — a claim that had European leaders anxious about the possibility of a changing world order.
TRUMP: They had a quote from me that NATO's obsolete. But they didn't say why it was obsolete. I was on Wolf Blitzer, very fair interview, the first time I was ever asked about NATO, because I wasn't in government. People don't go around asking about NATO if I'm building a building in Manhattan, right? So they asked me, Wolf … asked me about NATO, and I said two things. NATO's obsolete — not knowing much about NATO, now I know a lot about NATO — NATO is obsolete, and I said, "And the reason it's obsolete is because of the fact they don't focus on terrorism." You know, back when they did NATO there was no such thing as terrorism.
To be clear, there was such a thing as terrorism even before “they did NATO.”
Trump is still saying the border wall is going to be $10 billion or less
Building a wall is going to be expensive. And based on every estimate, it’s going to be a lot more expensive than $10 billion. But Trump thinks that’s just the partisanship talking. He’s sticking to his lowball price tag:
TRUMP: …It's also getting built for much less money — I hope you get this — than these people are estimating. The opponents are talking $25 billion for the wall. It's not going to cost anywhere near that.
AP: You think $10 billion or less.
TRUMP: I think $10 billion or less. And if I do a super-duper, higher, better, better security, everything else, maybe it goes a little bit more. But it's not going to be anywhere near (those) kind of numbers. And they're using those numbers; they're using the high numbers to make it sound impalatable (sic). And the fact it's going to cost much less money, just like the airplane I told you about, which I hope you can write about.
Estimates so far have varied, with $12 billion (the administration’s suggestion) at the low end and $15 billion (estimated by House and Senate leadership in January) as a more reasonable estimate. Senate Democrats’ $70 billion estimate represents almost double the entirety of the Department of Homeland Security’s yearly budget.
With so many unknowns in the building of the wall, it’s impossible to say whose price is right. But from past attempts to build fencing and beef up security, it’s clear that there is a lot of room for these estimated costs to grow.
Trump is still stuck on the popular vote/Electoral College thing
Ever since Trump lost the popular vote by the largest margin in history, he’s been stuck on the idea. He’s said unsubstantiated that he would have won the popular vote had it not been for voter fraud, and continues to maintain that if he had only focused on it, would have been easy to win.
Now he is adding that the Electoral College is skewed toward Democrats, in an apparent effort to boost the impressiveness of his win.
The Democrats, they have a big advantage in the electoral college. Big, big, big advantage. I've always said the popular vote would be a lot easier than the Electoral College. The Electoral College — but it's a whole different campaign (unintelligible). The Electoral College is very difficult for a Republican to win, and I will tell you, the people want to see it.
Except it is not “very difficult” for a Republican to win the Electoral College. In fact, it might be the other way around. Nevertheless, Trump repeated the claim in the interview, with the logic that it’s skewed toward Democrats because Republicans lose California and New York.
Although the election has, you know, look, the Democrats had a tremendous opportunity because the Electoral College, as I said, is so skewed to them. You start off by losing in New York and California, no matter who it is. If, if Abe Lincoln came back to life, he would lose New York and he would lose California. It's just the registration, there's nothing you can do. So you're losing the two biggest states, that's where you start.
Okay. The Electoral College is so skewed in favor of a Democrat that it's very, very hard. Look at Obama's number in the Electoral College. His numbers on the win were … but the Electoral College numbers were massive. You lose New York, you lose Illinois. Illinois is impossible to win. And you look at, so now you lose New York, Illinois, no matter what you do, and California. Right. And you say, man. Now you have to win Florida, you have to win Ohio, you have to win North Carolina. You have to win all these states, and then I won Wisconsin and Michigan and all of these other places, but you remember there was no way to, there was no way to 270.
Trump said “a lot of people” falsely said his congressional address was the “single best speech ever made in that chamber”
The “many people are saying” Trumpism returned with a not-so-humble humble brag about his first congressional address.
TRUMP: A lot of the people have said that, some people said it was the single best speech ever made in that chamber.
AP: You seem like you enjoyed it.
TRUMP: I did. I did. I believed in it and I enjoyed it. It was a great feeling to introduce the wife of a great young soldier who died getting us very valuable information. Have you seen the tremendous success? … That's another thing that nobody talks about. Have you seen the tremendous success we've had in the Middle East with the ISIS (an abbreviation for the Islamic State group)? When (current Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al) Abadi left from Iraq, he said Trump has more success in eight weeks than Obama had in eight years. … We have had tremendous success, but we don't talk about it. We don't talk about it.
AP: Do you mean you don't talk about it personally because you don't want to talk about it?
TRUMP: I don't talk about it. No. And the generals don't talk about it.
The speech did get good press for having a “presidential” tone, particularly the moment he put the spotlight on the bereaved family of Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens. But, as Vox’s Yochi Dreazen explains, there’s much more to Owens’s story than that moment.
Furthermore, a ratings-obsessed Trump also failed to mention that the numbers of viewers for his speech fell short of Obama’s.
Nevertheless, Trump followed it up with another not-so-humble humble brag talking about how he doesn’t talk about what his administration is doing in the Middle East.
Trump has maybe stopped watching CNN?
It’s become common knowledge that Trump’s seemingly most erratic tweet storms can be traced back to cable television.
Now Trump says he doesn’t tune in anymore. He “never thought” he had the ability to stop watching, but he’s done it, he said — he’s cut out CNN and MSNBC:
TRUMP: Okay. The one thing I've learned to do that I never thought I had the ability to do. I don't watch CNN anymore.
AP: You just said you did.
TRUMP: No. No, I, if I'm passing it, what did I just say (inaudible)?
AP: You just said —
TRUMP: Where? Where?
AP: Two minutes ago.
TRUMP: No, they treat me so badly. No, I just said that. No, I, what'd I say, I stopped watching them. But I don't watch CNN anymore. I don't watch MSNBC. I don't watch it. Now I heard yesterday that MSNBC, you know, they tell me what's going on.
TRUMP: In fact, they also did. I never thought I had the ability to not watch. Like, people think I watch (MSNBC's) Morning Joe. I don't watch Morning Joe. I never thought I had the ability to, and who used to treat me great by the way, when I played the game. I never thought I had the ability to not watch what is unpleasant, if it's about me. Or pleasant. But when I see it's such false reporting and such bad reporting and false reporting that I've developed an ability that I never thought I had. I don't watch things that are unpleasant. I just don't watch them.
This hasn’t stopped his ongoing “war” with the press. That, he continues to recognize, is co-dependent. He gives cable news high ratings and, in turn, his messages — however contradictory, or chaotic — are amplified.