On Saturday, the New York Times offered a lengthy look at Donald Trump’s presidencyfrom the inside with an article informed by “60 [presidential] advisers, associates, friends and members of Congress.” The piece is a portrait of a president who has made almost no strides toward being a competent statesman and instead continues to do things his way, in the hope he can reinvent his role on his own ill-defined terms. The Trump presidency has largely been defined by the president’s highly visible insecurities and outsized ego. “Despite all his bluster, [Trump] views himself less as a titan dominating the world stage than a maligned outsider engaged in a struggle to be taken seriously.” Also, the guy seems able to tear himself away from his television only long enough to take in a few rounds of golf.
1. He watches a ton of television, but lies about it.
As soon as he wakes around 5:30am each morning, Trump turns on cable news and channel-hops throughout the day. Fox News shows like “Fox & Friends,” along with programs hosted by Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro, which offer unfailingly fawning coverage, give the president “comfort and messaging ideas.” Trump reportedly “hate watches” MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” and CNN, particularly Don Lemon, in order to get “fired up.”
Those close to the president told the Times they “estimate that Mr. Trump spends at least four hours a day, and sometimes as much as twice that, in front of a television, sometimes with the volume muted.” (According to staffers, “[n]o one touches the remote control except Mr. Trump and the technical support staff — at least that’s the rule.”)
He also lies about his level of TV consumption. During a recent trip to Asia he insisted reports about his television obsession were based on “fake sources,” out of fears it would bolster “criticism that he is not taking the job seriously.”
2. He’s erratic, and his behavior is often determined by how his news coverage looks.
Trump basically starts tweeting from his iPhone shortly after waking and taking in cable news headlines, even dashing off messages “while propped on his pillow.” Staffers are careful to keep an eye on “Fox & Friends” live in the morning for a guide to the president’s headspace and a sense of how difficult the day will be.
“If someone on the show says something memorable and Mr. Trump does not immediately tweet about it, the president’s staff knows he may be saving Fox News for later viewing on his recorder and instead watching MSNBC or CNN live — meaning he is likely to be in a foul mood to start the day.”
But moodiness means that the president is unpredictable at every turn; cranky and volatile one moment and personable the next. “Several advisers said the president may curse them for a minor transgression…then make amiable small talk with the same person minutes later.”
3. He still doesn’t read and needs briefings tailored to his short attention span.
Trump has previously admitted that he doesn’t read because he imagines he has “a lot of common sense.” His disdain for knowledge has been a consistent marker of his approach to U.S. intelligence. Post-election, Trump defended his practice of skipping most daily briefings by noting he didn’t need “to be told the same thing in the same words every single day” since he is “like, a smart person.” He now gets verbal updates each day, with staffers noting he has “become more attentive during daily intelligence briefings thanks to pithy presentations by Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director.”
“He really loves verbal briefings,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told the Times. “He is not one to consume volumes of books or briefings.”
4. He drinks up to 12 Diet Cokes a day.
According to a new book by erstwhile campaign Trump staffers Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie, “On Trump Force One there were four major food groups: McDonald’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, pizza and Diet Coke.” (Another Trump staffer told Axios, “Big Macs were served on silver trays in his private jet.”) The Times reports that Trump puts away two six-packs of Diet Cokes every single day, which he guzzles while (what else?) channel surfing and spouting off to anyone within earshot.
“Watching cable, [Trump] shares thoughts with anyone in the room, even the household staff he summons via a button for lunch or one of the dozen Diet Cokes he consumes each day.”
5. For all his complaints about his news coverage, he absolutely hates not being talked about.
According to insiders, Trump gets sad when he doesn’t see himself prominently featured among the day’s stories. Who would have thought a narcissist with the most fragile of egos would desperately need any kind of attention he can get.
To an extent that would stun outsiders, Mr. Trump, the most talked-about human on the planet, is still delighted when he sees his name in the headlines. And he is on a perpetual quest to see it there. One former top adviser said Mr. Trump grew uncomfortable after two or three days of peace and could not handle watching the news without seeing himself on it.
Nearly everyone in Trump’s orbit Times writers spoke with “raised questions about his capacity and willingness to differentiate bad information from something that is true.” That jibes with a recent report from the Washington Post that even behind closed doors, the president traffics in falsehoods and conspiracy theories, raising absurd questions about Barack Obama’s birth certificate, insisting he actually won the popular vote and suggesting 2005 Access Hollywood footage of him bragging about grabbing women’s pussies may not be real.
7. He thought being president would be like ruling a monarchy.
Trump had never held a role in the military or government before the election and was clearly uninterested in politics or policy. During the campaign season, he promised to defend nonexistent Articles of the Constitution, while as president, he revealed complete ignorance about Abraham Lincoln’s membership in the Republican Party of yore. After eight years of enduring racist taunts about every move he made, the Wall Street Journal reported that President Obama had to “spend more time with his successor than presidents typically do” because Donald Trump was so out of his depth coming into the job.
In April, Trump told Reuters that being president is “more work than in [his] previous life,” and that he’d thought leading the country “would be easier.” Which is dunderheaded for all the obvious reasons, but also because Trump essentially thought winning the U.S. presidential election was akin to becoming king, per the Times report.
Mr. Trump’s difficult adjustment to the presidency, people close to him say, is rooted in an unrealistic expectation of its powers, which he had assumed to be more akin to the popular image of imperial command than the sloppy reality of having to coexist with two other branches of government.
The story goes on to note that “Trump expected being president would [entail] . . .ruling by fiat, exacting tribute and cutting back-room deals.”
8. Nancy Pelosi offered this blatant and totally undisguised shade.
“[H]e was utterly unprepared for this. It would be like you or me going into a room and being asked to perform brain surgery. When you have a lack of knowledge as great as his, it can be bewildering.”
9. Despite the mere five years that separate them, Trump made fun of Bernie Sanders’ age.
While giving a White House tour to four Democratic legislators, Trump began speculating on who might run against him in 2020. He suggested Bernie Sanders would almost certainly run “even if he’s in a wheelchair,” and then mocked both the aged and disabled by “making a scrunched-up body of a man in a wheelchair.”