It’s easy to rattle the cage of Donald Trump. Did John Lewis just play him for a chump? Or was it a win-win for both of them?
You could get either idea from the Sunday shows—especially Meet the Press on NBC—when they reported the President-elect’s vicious response to the Congressman from Georgia on the weekend of the holiday that celebrates the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
After Lewis on Friday said Trump will be an illegitimate president when inaugurated this Friday, Trump launched a Twitter attack on Saturday that included loaded language and negative stereotypes about African-Americans communities and how black people live in places like Atlanta.
“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime-infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “All talk, talk, talk – no action or results. Sad!”
Later, he expanded.
“Congressman John Lewis should finally focus on the burning and crime-infested inner cities of the U.S.,” Trump wrote, as if he had just watched Gone With The Wind. “I can use all the help I can get!”
The Democrat Lewis, who marched with Dr. King in the 1960s for Voting Rights, told Todd that the Republican Trump won’t be a legitimate president because the Russian government aided his campaign over Hillary Clinton by hacking emails of Democrats.
Lewis said he would skip Trump’s inauguration ceremonies. Since then, others have joined the boycott, not all of them African-American.
Unspoken but part of the context was Trump’s multi-year and fallacious campaign to de-legitimize President Barack Obama—the nation’s first African-American president—as someone born outside the United States.
It seemed almost as if Lewis was baiting Trump to not only attack an iconic American politician but also to show the race cards of his hand, which he willingly displayed.
But, perhaps, both politicians gained. Lewis began momentum for the African-American branch of the resistance to Trump. And Trump—with little black support to lose—took advantage of the opportunity to please his base of angry white voters who just might enjoy it when a bellicose demagogue attacks blacks.
By trash-talking Lewis and smearing his constituents as criminals, Trump played to a severe racial stereotype that was not missed by commentator Nina Turner, an African-American and a former Democratic State Senator from Ohio.
On CNN’s State of the Union, Turner called it her “memo to my white elected officials—not just President-elect Trump” but also other white leaders who assume the African-American community is homogeneous.
“They read us the wrong way,” she told host Jake Tapper. “They think everybody’s poor, everybody’s broken down. That is not the truth. They need to come and visit some African-American communities and see the diversity.”
Lewis’s comments were recorded Friday and some of them were released then. A longer version of the interview aired on Sunday’s NBC show.
“I think there was a conspiracy on the part of the Russians and others to help him get elected,” Lewis said of Trump. “That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s not the open, democratic process. It’s going to be very hard and very difficult, almost impossible for me to work with him.”
Most of the other shows felt obliged to follow the agenda set by Lewis-Trump war of words. On ABC’s This Week, Trump chief of staff Reince Priebus told George Stephanopoulos that President Obama should tell Lewis and his party to “grow up and accept the fact that they lost the election.”
‘If Donald Trump is driving the bus, shouldn’t his secretary of state know where the bus is going?’
Regarding Trump’s knee-jerk tweets about Lewis, Todd asked Priebus:
“Did the President-elect contemplate reaching out to Congressman Lewis privately before tweeting?”
“Look, I, ah, here’s the thing, uh, I think that, Chuck, it’s shocking that Congressman Lewis, who is a civil rights icon and is a person who has championed voting rights, would actually question the legitimacy of an election in this country in starting this firestorm,” Priebus said.
(Translated from Trumpspeak, the previous answer means “Hell, no, Chuck. Trump never thinks that way.”)
In view of Trump’s tawdry record of “Birtherism” against Obama, Todd asked if Priebus understood that Trump might be found hypocritical for complaining about scurrilous stories circulated against him.
“Irresponsible!” Priebus said of Lewis. “It’s not right!”
On Todd’s pundit panel, Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic said Trump is “so easily trolled” and he wondered how Trump might respond if North Korea or China were to anger him with Twitter tweets.
“Because this is not an appropriate reaction,” Goldberg said of Trump’s response to Lewis.
In the best single line of the day, Rich Lowry of National Review said of Trump’s temperamental blasts: “Everyone needs to get used to this. This is the new abnormal.”
In a more serious vein, Helene Cooper of The New York Times said Trump’s “tantrums” are “frightening.”
“There’s a way to say ‘I disagree with John Lewis’ without calling Atlanta a crime-infested hellhole,” Cooper said.
On CNN, Tapper noted the sting of Trump’s timing on the verge of MLK Day.
“I think that struck a lot of people [as] a little tone deaf, including many Republicans,” Tapper told Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul, who answered “When things involve race, it gets very, very sensitive.”
Moments later, when Tapper spoke to former Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Rick Santorum and put him on the spot, Santorum ducked the question.
TAPPER: “As a political matter, if Donald Trump had said to you ‘How do you think I should handle this? What would you have said?”
SANTORUM: “Look, Donald Trump’s president [sic] and I’m not, so I’m not giving Donald Trump any advice.””
Hand me the remote . . .
FOX NEWS SUNDAY Host Chris Wallace interviewed John Brennan, the outgoing CIA director, about Trump’s feud with the “intelligence community.” The Great Leader has compared the tactics of American spies to those of really bad people.
“What I do find outrageous is equating an intelligence community with Nazi Germany,” Brennan said. “I do take great umbrage at that. There is no basis for Mr. Trump to point fingers at the intelligence community for leaking . . . what was already available publicly.”
He was speaking of documents circulating among top American government officials that portray Trump as the compromised target of Russian espionage involving alleged videos of alleged dealings with prostitutes in a Moscow hotel room. Trump has denied anything like this.
Earlier in the week CNN reported that a summary of those unverified rumors had been presented to Trump. This report angered Trump, as did a buzzfeed (BZFD) report about the larger dossier with the alleged urination by the alleged prostitutes on the alleged bed in the alleged hotel.
“The world is watching now what Mr. Trump says and listening very carefully,” Brennan said. “If he doesn’t have confidence in the intelligence community, what signal does that send to our partners and allies as well as our adversaries? So I think Mr. Trump has to be very disciplined . . . He is going to be the most powerful person in the world.”
Much has been made about Trump’s friendly overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
WALLACE: “Do you think that Mr. Trump understands the threat from Russia?”
BRENNAN: “I don’t think he has a full appreciation of Russian capabilities, Russia’s intentions and actions that they are undertaking in many parts of the world . . . Mr. Trump has to understand that absolving Russia of various actions it has taken in the past number of years is a road that he, I think, needs to be very careful about moving down.”
Brennan added that Trump needs to understand that superpower geopolitical relations are not just about Trump and that spontaneous words about relations with other nations “is not something that protects national security interests.”
A different tone toward Trump and the “intelligence community” came from the always opportunistic Bob Woodward of The Washington Post, who took Trump’s side.
Todd, out of time, could manage only a quizzical look and the words ‘I don’t think everybody’s going to agree with you on that one.’
“I think what’s under rah-por-ded here is Trump’s point of view,” Woodward said. “That is a garbage document. I never should’ve been presented as part of an intelligence briefing.”
MEET THE PRESS This was a sharply-edited episode with a fast pace and a sense of urgency beyond those insistent strings of the theme music.
It started with the teases in the opening menu.
“Democrats go public with their anger at Director James Comey,” Todd said.
Then came a tight clip from California Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters.
“The FBI director has no credibility,” she said, and left in a huff.
As Todd said “Plus, growing concerns about Donald Trump’s coziness with Vladimir Putin,” the screen showed Trump’s face superimposed over a picture of the Kremlin.
“Our democracy seemed to be undergoing a bit of a stress test,” Todd said in reference to the events of the week. Todd called Trump’s contentious and belligerent meeting with the media on Wednesday “a bizarre news conference.”
Almost humorous relief came in a clip from the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings for Attorney General. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina was questioning the nominee, Republican Sen. Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III of Alabama.
GRAHAM: “Do you think the Russians were behind the hacking of the election?”
SESSIONS: “I have done no research into that. I know just what the media says about it.”
GRAHAM: “Do you think you can get briefed any time soon?”
SESSIONS: “Well, I’ll need to.”
GRAHAM: “I think you do, too.”
During pundit panel time, Todd’s producers scrolled a list—like movie credits—of targets Trump has attacked on Twitter since the election.
One of his guests, Danielle Pletka of the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, ended the show with an allegation that stunned Todd.
“Let’s not forget that one of the reasons our nation is so divided is because of the legacy of Barack Obama,” she said. “One of the reasons we no longer lead the world is Barack Obama.”
Todd, out of time, could manage only a quizzical look and the words “I don’t think everybody’s going to agree with you on that one.”
THIS WEEK Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont noted how Republicans are huffing and puffing about “repealing and replacing” Obamacare.
“Republicans have had six years to come up with a replacement,” Sanders said. “They’ve got nothin’.”
‘Sometimes, change is scary—but change can be good. . . Let’s try it for the first few weeks.’
Priebus spoke of Trump’s Electoral College victory despite losing the popular vote by almost three million.
“This man won in an electoral landslide,” he said.
Of Obamacare, Priebus said “We will cover those folks that are on Obamacare that need to be covered.” (The Obama administration says 24 million more people are insured due to the ACA).
Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz—a Republican who loved to investigate Hillary Clinton—seemed in no hurry to examine allegations that Trump has conflicts of interest between his new job and his old businesses.
“I’m not going on this fishing expedition,” he said.
Perhaps his oversight committee—and others—will be more motivated if and when one extreme prediction comes true. It came from Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, who said Trump is “a bully who thrives on division.”
She also noted that his favorable numbers are dropping unusually low for a new president.
“The poll ratings are in the gutter right now,” she said. “These poll ratings go south, I think you have a Republican party ready to begin different kinds of hearings than Mr. Chaffetz is unwilling to have.”
And what was she implying?
“They’d be very happy with Michael Pence president,” vanden Heuvel said.
“Donald Trump won a landslide election,” Pence said.
Dickerson asked about something odd in the Senate confirmation hearings for Rex Tillerson to become secretary of state.
DICKERSON: “Mr. Tillerson said he hadn’t had a conversation about Russia with Donald Trump. How can that be?”
PENCE: “Well, I think, in the context of these confirmation hearings, the President-elect has made a point to talk to each of the various candidates for these positions and, uh, the nature of these conversations is usually wide-ranging.”
DICKERSON: “If Donald Trump is driving the bus, shouldn’t his secretary of state know where the bus is going?”
PENCE: “I think Rex Tillerson will have—and has no—confusion about who will be making the decisions in the Trump administration.”
Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Fox) stopped by to remind the nation and beyond about Trump and the mixed signals he sends.
“The rest of the planet is going to have to—for better or for worse—learn how to cope with a president who is very complicated,” Gingrich said.
STATE OF THE UNION Tapper’s CNN show put Trump in the opening, talking of himself in the third person.
“If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset,” Trump said.
Tapper interviewed Denis McDonough, Obama’s chief of staff, on an outdoor set to be used at the inauguration. Tapper asked whether McDonough was concerned that the Russians “have something” on Trump.
“The job description of chief of staff is to be concerned and to worry about things,” McDonough said.
TAPPER: “You didn’t deny you were concerned.”
McDONOUGH: “Look, I’m paid to be concerned about everything.”
Later, discussing Obamacare, Sen. Paul of Kentucky, a doctor, seemed more conciliatory than most Republicans.
“Their motives were good,” Paul said of the Democrats, who passed Obama’s signature legislation. “Their hearts were in the right place.”
In discussing “repeal and replace,” Paul also used the word “reform.” When Tapper asked Paul if Medicaid expansion will remain—an important issue for Paul’s poor and Trump-supporting constituents—Paul replied: “I think that’s the big question.”
During panel time, Santorum offered a take on Obama that is rarely heard.
“This president has been a bully,” Santorum said of Obama. “Now, he’s done it in a cool way, I’ll give you that. The guy has style.”
Of Trump, Santorum excused the rude dude.
“Look, he’s going to have rough edges,” Santorum said. “It’s a coarsening society and we have a president who reflects that. Surprise!”
RELIABLE SOURCES Host Brian Stelter on CNN opened with “President-elect Donald Trump does not respect dissent. He attacks truth-telling journalists and he bullies critics.”
Stelter interviewed Ben Smith, the editor of BuzzFeed, about how the website released the 35-page dossier about allegations of Trump’s alleged behavior with the alleged prostitutes and the alleged urination—something Trump has denied.
“Reasonable people can disagree on this,” Smith said. “And they are.”
Stelter called Smith’s willingness to use the unproven details the difference between legacy media and digital media.
Referring to Sean Spicer’s threat to ban CNN’s Jim Acosta—although CNN never reported the salacious details, only that intelligence chiefs had given Trump a summation of them—Smith said: “There’s obviously an attempt right now to divide the press, to turn us on each other.”
Smith also spoke specifically about Trump and his top aides.
“He and his spokespeople say things that aren’t true all the time,” Smith said.
Among the pundits, Goldberg said that once CNN put the existence of the salacious document into the official Washington bloodstream, “the pressure becomes inevitable to tell people what’s in it.”
MEDIA BUZZ For the second successive week, Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer visited Howard Kurtz on Fox News Channel to attack and intimidate the media.
He’s still mad about CNN’s Acosta trying to question Trump on Wednesday after Trump attacked his network.
“Rude . . . inappropriate . . . disrespectful,” Spicer said “Childish.”
Spicer’s latest threat is to move the White House media—at least for some news conferences and briefings—from the main building to the Executive Office Building next door.
“Sometimes, change is scary, but change can be good,” Spicer said. “Let’s try it for the first few weeks.”
By doing this, Spicer said, the Trump approach might bring in “talk radio and bloggers” to ask questions instead of the “elite media.”
Spicer expressed wrath over NBC’s Saturday Night Live which opened on the weekend with Alec Baldwin impersonating Trump at Wednesday’s news conference.
There were plenty of jokes about urine and prostitutes and hotel rooms and Trump. There was a bare-chested “Vladimir Putin” character with a video tape that said “Pee-pee.”
Spicer did not laugh. He called it a “left-wing hit piece.”
“Look, Saturday Night Live used to be funny,” Spicer said. “And it’s gone from being funny to just bad. Those aren’t jokes. They’re inappropriate. They turn off people . . . It’s over the top. If someone had done this to the Obamas, there would be outrage.”
On the pundit panel, Juan Williams expressed amazement at Wednesday’s media event.
“Wow, what a press conference,” Williams said. “I’ve never seen a press conference like that. Someone described it as pandemonium . . . I think that’s exactly right.”
Regarding Trump’s online messaging, Williams said: “It leads people to think ‘Is this guy for real? Is this really the man who will be President of the United States?’”