Trump savages media as Washington roasts him from afar – Politico
HARRISBURG, PA. â Jerry Dobihal came into the Pennsylvania Farm Show auditorium here with two Donald Trump buttons tacked on his cowboy hat, 15 colored markers and a large sign: “My President Skipped Dinner to Give Us DESSERT.” By evening’s end, more than 200 people had scribbled a rainbow of notes, covering every inch of the poster. “I LOVE YOU DT,” one read.
For trading his tuxedo for a farm arena here, where the faint smell of cow dung occasionally wafted in, Trump got what he wanted: a showdown with the Washington media that he claims to despise but deeply covets, as well as praise for being a man-of-the-people, even though he has donned tuxedos at Manhattan’s swankiest galas for decades.
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âI could not possibly be more thrilled than to be more than 100 miles away from Washington’s swamp, spending my evening with all of you with a much, much larger crowd and much, much better people,â Trump said. “The media deserves a very big, fat, failing grade.”
Trumpâs had his own struggles: He is grappling with record-low approval ratings, an administration beset by chaos and few legislative accomplishments, and a realization that he has much to learn, aides and advisers say. He has struggled to secure support for his agenda.
His signature executive order â a travel ban â has been halted by the courts, twice. He has been stung by unflattering portraits of his administration’s issues and marveled aloud at how difficult the job is.
So on Saturday he returned to vintage Trump: blaming and attacking others, bragging about his election win, and ticking through issues with his signature bravado but little clarity. The president did not mention that he and his team have spent hundreds of hours in recent weeks trying to woo the media into better coverage of his administration. Or that he watches dozens of hours of TV every week on his trusty TiVo. Or that he is at home at black-tie dinners.
The rallies were like the campaign never ended, and Trump seemed back in his groove.
Trump’s favorite tunes played: He entered right after “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. He read a 1960s song about a woman who took in a snake, which bit her after she nursed it in her bosom, to explain why the United States should block immigration. It was a hit of the campaign trail, as he noted.
“You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in!” he said, imitating the snake, his voice rising to a climax.
In an audience with hundreds of signs, he spotted one that piqued his interest. “Thank you for that sign, BLACKS FOR TRUMP,” he said. “I love that guy.”
He singled out Sen. Chuck Schumer for leading Democrats “to doom,” even though he privately has told others he likes the fellow New Yorker. “Senator Schumer is a bad leader, not a natural leader at all,” he said. “Known him for a long time.”
More than a dozen protesters fought with Trump supporters, who hauled the protesters over to police officers so they could be escorted out. At one point, several officers threw a protester to the ground who wasn’t leaving the arena. “Get him the hell out of here,” Trump said.
He read statistics off his teleprompters about the news media donating to Democrats and polls that show much of the American public doesn’t trust the media. He predicted the media would cover his rally unfairly. Trump vowed repeatedly on the campaign trail to label China a currency manipulator. Saturday night, he said it was ridiculous that the media would point out that he reversed his position because he was negotiating on other issues.
Before promising a border wall, a new health care system and a strong response to North Korea Saturday night, Trump told an adoring crowd here about the “ugly” office interior and “crummy” Manhattan location of the “failing New York Times.”
It was unclear why anyone in a Harrisburg farm arena would care â and the crowd was largely silent during the real estate-related knocks.
But he kept attacking the Times, even though he reads the paper every morning and often invites its reporters into the Oval Office.
âItâs starting to look like a comic book,â Trump said, chiding the newspaper for selling its historic building in Times Square and moving to âan ugly location to an ugly part of town.â He ripped the Boston Globe, too, for getting rid of its historic building, pitting his own real estate prowess against that of the newspaper.
The crowd, largely white and in casual clothes, was overwhelmingly receptive, with the usual chants of “Lock her up!” and “Build the wall!” The crowd loved Vice President Mike Pence’s bragging about Trump’s “historic” legislative accomplishments, though there have been few of consequence.
“It is amazing how much he has gotten done,” said Barbara Coward, a consultant from Baltimore who donned American-flag flip-flops and posed for pictures in front of the stage with her son.
In Washington, the mood was subdued. TV reporters were left to cover an empty red carpet, noting that Hollywood stars who showed up over the last eight years of the Obama administration were nowhere to be seen.
âThere havenât been many celebrities there tonight, have there?â Wolf Blitzer asked a CNN reporter, moments before dashing off to the dinner.
White House Correspondents’ Association President Jeff Mason gave a fiery speech during the dinner in which he slammed Trumpâs persistent attacks on the media as “fake news.”
âWe cannot ignore the rhetoric that has been employed by the president about who we are and what we do,â said Mason, a White House correspondent for Reuters. âFreedom of the press is a building block of our democracy. Undermining that by seeking to delegitimize journalists is dangerous to a healthy republic.â
But the real heat came from comedian Hasan Minhaj, who pulled few punches despite saying that he was asked to avoid criticizing Trump and the administration in absentia. Mason disputed that during Minhajâs performance.
âThe leader of our country is not here, and that’s because he lives in Moscow,â Minhaj said. âIt’s a very long flight, it’s a Saturday. As for the other guy, I think he’s in Pennsylvania because he can’t take a joke.â
Minhaj also laced into Trump’s aides and Cabinet members, referring to chief strategist Steve Bannon as a Nazi, calling press secretary Sean Spicer a Holocaust denier, and implying that attorney general Jeff Sessions is racist.
The Daily Show comedian went after the media as well, mocking CNN, MSNBC, Huffington Post and Fox News as he implored journalists to hold the president accountable.
Earlier in the day, comedian Samantha Bee also roasted Trump and the media in a âNot the White House Correspondentsâ Dinner” that aired at the same time as the official dinner.
âWe are living in a golden age of journalism,â Bee told a crowd in Washingtonâs D.A.R. Constitution Hall. âUnfortunately, that’s partly due to a golden president.â
Trump and his aides reveled in the split screen. Two Trump administration officials said they relished the idea of Trump being with blue-collar voters while Washington “tells itself how great it is,” in the words of one official.
“And someone will probably say something really offensive there that we can use to our advantage,” one senior administration official said.
Trump has an especially touchy history with the correspondentsâ dinner. In 2011, former President Barack Obama gave Trump a roast at the dinner for igniting rumors that he wasnât born in the United States.
âNo one is prouder to put this birth-certificate matter to rest than the Donald,â Obama said. âAnd thatâs because he can finally get back to the issues that matter, like: did we fake the moon landing? What really happened in Roswell? Andâwhere are Biggie and Tupac?â
Trump advisers said the embarrassment is one reason they believe he eventually ran for president. Trump said Saturday night he might return to the dinner next year.
“Next year, maybe we’ll make it more exciting for them,” he said.
The crowd didn’t cheer, so the perpetual showman quickly reversed himself and said he might just return to Pennsylvania again next year. Then, he got the roar he wanted.
Aidan Quigley and Madeline Conway contributed to this report.