It’s not often that President Trump subjects himself to a television interview outside the confines of Fox & Friends. There are many reasons for this, such as the risk of implicating himself in a federal crime, as he did last year when he readily admitted to NBC’s Lester Holt that he fired FBI Director James Comey because he was annoyed with the Russia investigation. Perhaps emboldened by Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court, the president decided to give it another go, this time with Lesley Stahl on 60 Minutes. The interview, which aired Sunday night, covered a wide range of issues, with Stahl pressing Trump on everything from climate change to Christine Blasey Ford. Though he didn’t open himself up to obstruction of justice charges, the president didn’t fare so well under the scrutiny of an actual journalist asking him real questions.
When speaking with Fox News or a group of reporters, Trump knows he’s never really going to have to answer follow-up questions. But it isn’t as easy to lean on “many people are saying”-style justifications when held captive by a talented journalist, and the more Stahl drew Trump off his well-worn script of non-answers, the more ridiculous the president sounded. Take this exchange about climate change, which has regained the media’s attention thanks to the torrent of hurricanes ravaging the East Coast and a recent report from an intergovernmental panel at the UN that details the severity of the situation.
Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes presses Trump about his climate change views. He says: "I think something’s happening. Something’s changing – and it’ll change back again. I don't think it's a hoax, I think there's probably a difference. But I don't know that it's man-made." pic.twitter.com/MAIO1gJNKY
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) October 14, 2018
This is about as close as a journalist can come to exposing Trump’s ignorance of a subject. When he’s trapped or frustrated, the president will fall back on partisanship, in this case claiming that climate change is the result of a political conspiracy coordinated by the entire scientific community. Stahl could have continued to press Trump here, but at a certain point it’s just not worth it anymore.
No line of inquiry can overmatch the president’s capacity for misdirection, and there are other topics that needed to be discussed. One of which was Defense Secretary James Mattis and NATO. When Stahl challenged Trump on his apparent lack of concern for America’s standing with its allies, Trump argued that he “knows more about it” than Mattis. Again, he ultimately relied on partisanship, attributing any friction with the conservative general leading the nation’s military to imagined political differences. “I think he’s sort of a Democrat, if you want to know the truth,” the president said, absurdly.
Trump’s responses under pressure didn’t get any more coherent. When Stahl read Trump a list of the atrocities perpetrated by Kim Jong-un, with whom Trump recently said he fell in love, the president shrugged it off. “I’m not a baby, I know these things,” he said, adding, “I get along with him, OK?” When Stahl brought up the trade war with China, Trump offered an important clarification: “I called it, actually, I called it a battle. But, actually, I’m gonna lower that. I consider it a skirmish. And we’re gonna win.” While talking a stroll through the White House — the walls of which feature a cartoonish portrait of Trump playing cards with past Republican presidents — Stahl asked Trump if he would pledge not to end the Russia investigation. He refused. “I don’t pledge anything,” he said. “But I will tell you, I have no intention of doing that.” I’m convinced.
Stahl also pressed Trump on his recent treatment of Christine Blasey Ford, whom Trump mocked for accusing Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault. Trump cited this public mockery as the reason Kavanaugh was confirmed. “I’m not going to get into it, because we won,” he said. “It doesn’t matter.”
President Trump on his treatment of Justice Kavanaugh accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford during a speech in Mississippi: “Had I not made that speech, we would not have won.” pic.twitter.com/We2r9Zi9Iz
— 60 Minutes (@60Minutes) October 15, 2018
This is the inevitable conclusion of any substantive interview of the president: Fuck you, we won. It’s the sentiment underlying all of Trump’s interactions with the press, and, for that matter, his entire presidency. He couldn’t care less about what the media thinks of his views regarding climate change, cozying up to Kim Jong-un or the president’s treatment of women. The same goes for the horrors of his family separation policy, which he recently defended as an effective way to deter migrants. After Stahl pressed him on the policy, Trump tried to pin blame on President Obama. When Stahl objected, the subtext was once again flushed to the surface.
“Lesley, it’s OK,” Trump said. “In the meantime, I’m president and you’re not.”
Tickled by this particular deflection was Fox & Friends host Ainsely Earhardt, who on Monday morning called it her favorite part of the interview. Laughing alongside her were co-hosts Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade. “Hats off to President Trump, who will go up against any journalist, even the ones who aren’t in favor of him,” Earhardt added.
Kilmeade continued to pile on Stahl by arguing that she shouldn’t have brought up climate change, the deniers of which are comprised almost exclusively of Republican politicians and Fox News personalities. “She really believes in global warming, and that’s fine,” said Kilmeade. “But she was trying to win over the president with her point of view. There are other scientists. Something is going on out there. The role of man has not been unveiled in a way the president accepts.”
After the segment aired, Earnhardt tweeted another criticism of Stahl, who indirectly managed to flush out out the subtext of Fox News’ relationship with the president. “President Trump peppered endlessly with questions in an interview with ’60 Minutes,'” she tweeted.
Wide receiver peppered endlessly with footballs. pic.twitter.com/yw2cHJX8WZ
— Miles Kahn (@mileskahn) October 15, 2018
Last week, Earhardt concluded a phone interview with the president by asking him to wish her father happy birthday. “That will be the best birthday present I will ever be able to get him,” she said. Earhardt has since deleted her tweet criticizing Stahl for asking the president questions that did not also flatter him.