Critic's Notebook: Facing Impeachment Inquiry, Trump Delivers Low-Energy Presser

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference - Getty-2 - H 2019
SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

Complaining about all the negative reactions to his "beautiful, innocent" phone call with the leader of Ukraine, the president sounded like a grade-schooler trying to get out of being grounded.

There is only way to describe President Donald Trump's performance Wednesday during his first press conference after the announcement of the House impeachment inquiry: low-energy.

Sure, he was angry and defiant, belittling his political opponents and the press and using such favorite stock phrases as "witch hunt," "hoax" and "fake news." But he delivered his broadsides in a subdued, sulking manner, seeming already defeated by what is going to be a long and involved process. It's no wonder he had a very uncomfortable-looking Mike Pompeo and Steve Mnuchin onstage with him; they should each have been holding his hand.

Someone needs to explain to Trump what a press conference actually is. The idea is to take questions from journalists, not deliver a long, rambling self-aggrandizing monologue that sounds like a malignant narcissist free-associating to his therapist. But that's what constituted most of the proceedings, with the president predictably touting his administration's accomplishments, both real and imagined (mostly the latter), and complaining, darn it, that he's just not getting enough praise.

"I think we set a new record, but you have to check that out," he commented, referring to the number of meetings he's held with foreign dignitaries during the last few days at the United Nations. (Only Trump would turn even foreign diplomacy into yet another attempt to get into the Guinness Book of World Records.) The president proceeded to name each and every country involved, which added up to a lot of favors he probably asked for. Hopefully, we'll be getting the summaries soon.

Trump whined about the press not sufficiently covering the U.N. meetings, because, as he put it, "You waste your time on nonsense." He proceeded to decry the "so-called whistleblower" who only had access to "second-hand information, which is sort of interesting," adding, "You'll have to figure that out for yourself." (Don't worry, Mr. President, we will.)

"I didn't do it, I didn't threaten anybody," Trump protested, sounding like a two-bit hoodlum who's just been arrested. He went on to quote a past CNN story about Democratic senators pressuring Ukraine to stop corruption, failing to appreciate the irony of whom he was citing. Apparently, it's only fake news when it suits him.

"I think you should ask for VP Pence's conversations [with Ukraine]," Trump suggested, throwing Pence under the bus. "He had a couple of conversations, as well," the president pointed out, making sure that if he goes down, he's taking his vice president with him.

Trump touted his future trade deal with Great Britain (should they ever get this Brexit thing worked out) and his efforts to ease tensions between India and Pakistan. "I said, 'Fellas, work it out. Just work out,'" he recalled, referring to the two countries' leaders. You have to admit that Trump has a point when he says that the Nobel Peace Prize committee just doesn't get him. How can they not award that sort of tireless, high-level diplomacy?  

The biggest threat facing the country, according to Trump, is Democrats. "They don't care about the country, they only care about the election," he lamented, apparently not cheered up by all the world leaders who supposedly expressed their sympathy for his suffering. "Impeachment for that?" he asked rhetorically. "When you have a wonderful phone conversation? It was beautiful. It was just a perfect conversation." It made one hope Kim Jong-un wasn't preparing to launch his missiles out of sheer jealousy.

Trump did perk up briefly when talking about his favorite subject: his big, beautiful wall. He went on about it for minutes, although not without complaining about California's ingratitude for it. "They were begging me for a wall. I should take it out and move it to another location," he whined, apparently hoping to make sure his picture appeared in the dictionary next to the definition of "immature."

Oh, and he eventually got around to taking a few questions. Asked how he would feel if Barack Obama had asked a foreign government to dig up information about him, Trump brought up… his poll numbers. And his electoral college victory. "That's a much different race than the popular vote," the civics teacher-in-chief reminded us. And that the Democrats are "very dishonest people" and mostly "radical, far-left socialists, or worse." Trump failed to specify what "worse" meant, although you can be sure Sean Hannity will tell us later.

Exhausted by all the lying, the president handed the microphone to Pompeo, who started talking about Iran. At that point, CNN temporarily cut off their coverage (Oh, snap!) and began their disbelieving commentary about what had transpired so far. A few minutes later, after Mnuchin had finished speaking, Trump took back the floor.

A Fox Business reporter asked a relatively softball question about markets and trade. But it didn't take long for Trump to get back to the subject of the "very innocent call, the very nice call." When asked if he was braced for a "long impeachment saga," Trump turned positively wistful.

"What these Democrats have done to ruin lives, it's so sad," he lamented, looking like he was about to burst into tears. Trump described all of the people who came to Washington "bright-eyed, just wanting to make people's lives better," who have had to endure endless legal fees. But mostly he talked about himself.

"I used to be the king of getting good press," Trump moaned, probably referring to the infamous headline in which Marla Maples proclaimed "Best Sex I Ever Had" (which we now know Trump actually wrote). Now, he complained, he has to deal with the likes of "Little Adam Schiff" ("Smart guy, by the way," Trump strangely added) and Jerry Nadler. "They must be laughing their asses off," he said bitterly, sounding oh-so-presidential.

I don't know about that, Mr. President. But you can bet that a lot of us are.