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In a series of eight sit-down interviews over the last seven days, President Donald Trump launched a buckshot round of headline-making quotes.
The interviews — conducted by the Associated Press, FOX News, FOX News again, the Washington Examiner, Reuters, CBS, Sirius XM, and Bloomberg — were all pegged to the president’s first 100 days. Poring over them now, we’ve noticed some patterns beneath the explosive headlines.
1. The president can simultaneously run hot and cold
Consider North Korea. In three interviews this week, Mr. Trump had positive words about North Korea’s dictator Kim Jung Un. He told Reuters that “not many 27-year-old men could go in and take over a regime.” To CBS, Trump dubbed the North Korean leader a “pretty smart cookie.” And to Bloomberg, he said he would be honored to meet with Kim if the circumstances were right.
Contrast that with three negative statements Trump made in the same week of interviews. When talking to FOX News about North Korea, Trump said that “nobody’s safe.” In the Reuters interview, he also warned of a possible “major conflict” with North Korea. And on Sirius XM, the president described Kim as “very threatening … saying terrible things. And people can’t do that.”
Conclusion: The president speaks in superlative, strong and sometimes dramatic terms. That’s the common denominator. He’s also a “disrupter,” as one source in Trump’s world described him to us. He can praise something (or someone) in one breath and criticize in the next. This may be strategic for Mr. Trump. But the hot-and-cold treatment has become a challenge for many U.S. diplomats who are used to aggressively calm demeanor, rather than a series of calm aggressions, from the nation’s commander-in-chief.
2. He underestimates the difficulty of difficult things in Washington.
Trump entered office having successfully navigated the high-power worlds of international real estate and marketing. But he raised eyebrows when he told Reuters that he thought the presidency would be less of a liftthan his old job.
“This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier,” he said.
Compare that to his April 28 comments to FOX News about health care. “I once said it’s complicated,” Trump said. “It’s not complicated, compared to other things being complicated, it’s not that hard.”
Conclusion: President Trump does not yet have a clear definition of what is difficult or complicated in Washington.
3. Trump headlines often eclipse Trump substance
From questioning why the civil war happened (on Sirius XM) to reversing himself within minutes on whether he watches CNN (in an interview with the Associated Press), Trump’s most explosive phrases often spark heated Internet discussion. But too often, these remarks eclipse other statements that are equally worthy of coverage in those same interviews.
Take this remark on immigration from his sit-down with the Associated Press: “We are cleaning out cities and towns of hard-line criminals, some of the worst people on Earth.” That’s a strong statement for both sides of the political spectrum, and one worth exploring further. (The Washington Post found the latest statistics show most of the immigrants deported under Trump are not hardened criminals).
Or this (in our opinion) undercovered nugget from the April 28 interview with FOX News about the Republicans’ budding tax reform effort. Trump said: “I’m going to end up paying more than I pay right now in taxes, all right? I will pay more than I pay right now. The reason I’m going to pay more is because I lose all the deductions. They have deductions on top of the deductions, they have hundreds and hundreds of pages of deductions.”
The comment shows Trump is aware of and attentive to the effect of policy on his bottom line. And it’s an important statement on what he believes that effect will be — another statement that deserves a closer look.
Conclusion: Read the transcripts in full. There is more substance than the headlines may indicate.
Lisa Desjardins is a correspondent for PBS NewsHour, where she covers news from the U.S. Capitol while also traveling across the country to report on how decisions in Washington affect people where they live and work.
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