WASHINGTON -- President George W. Bush would blow off steam by clearing brush from his ranch. President Barack Obama would sneak a soupcon of almonds or a cigarette. President Donald Trump's happy place: duking it out with a roomful of pestering reporters.
Trump turned his post-election news conference Wednesday -- normally an occasion for presidents to lick wounds and move on after midterm losses -- into a nearly 90-minute political tour de force for the president who loves as much as anything to put on a pugilistic performance.
He took no blame for the type of humbling losses that Bush called a "thumpin'" in 2006 or Obama acknowledged as a "shellacking" in 2010, when they similarly presided over their party's loss of at least one house of Congress.
Instead, Trump hailed "a great victory," against the electoral evidence otherwise. Then, after dutifully reading off most of the 10 pages of prepared notes from beneath the sparkling chandeliers in the White House East Room, he gleefully began brawling and blaming his enemies -- rather, "enemies of the people," as he again labeled reporters, one in particular.
The president told a black reporter, who asked whether his calling himself a "nationalist" was emboldening white nationalists, that she was asking "a racist question." He taunted Republican House members who lost their seats after refusing his "embrace," saying, "Too bad. Sorry about that." He mocked Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, a close ally, with an aside to a Japanese reporter, "Say hello to Shinzo. I'm sure he's happy about tariffs on his cars."
Above all, Trump suggested that his primary opponent for the next two years will not be Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco -- for whom he had nothing but kind words -- or any other Democrats angling for their party's 2020 presidential nomination, or even the special counsel's office that is investigating him, his company and his 2016 campaign. Instead, Trump showed he's running against the news media. And some reporters played willing foils by interrupting the president, shouting and refusing to yield the floor.
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"I tell you what, CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them," Trump told CNN's Jim Acosta, after the correspondent refused to defer to another reporter or hand the microphone to a White House intern tasked by Trump to take it from him. "You are a rude, terrible person," he further admonished Acosta. "You shouldn't be working for CNN."
When the waiting reporter, NBC's Peter Alexander, defended Acosta for his diligence as a reporter, Trump pounced on Alexander. "Well, I'm not a big fan of yours, either, so you know."
And on they went, back and forth.
Trump told three reporters with foreign accents that he could not understand them, even as he fended off questions about whether his campaign rhetoric had been xenophobic. He barked "Sit down!" six times to reporters. "Quiet, quiet, quiet," he told another, raising his voice.