President Donald Trump is tired of not winning.
He wants to talk about jobs, or trade, or combating illegal immigration, or his victory in the 2016 election. But reality continues to intervene.
Trump appeared at a news conference for the first time since April 12 on Thursday amid the most tumultuous stretch of his young presidency. His firing of the FBI director almost two weeks ago and the appointment of a special counsel to investigate possible collusion between Russia and his campaign book-ended a torrent of bad news for the president, including allegations that he had leaked classified information to Russian officials and new bombshells about his former national security adviser.
He is wounded, offended and convinced that certain forces are working to bring down his presidency. The problem, he has said again and again, is not him or his own actions. It is how he is being treated and received — by the media, by the FBI, by Democrats, by his own staff.
“The entire thing has been a witch hunt, and there was no collusion,” Trump said Thursday when asked about the appointment of the special prosecutor.
“Believe me,” he added later, “there’s no collusion.”
But as he stood beside the president of Colombia in the East Room and tried to pivot to discussing jobs and trade and crime, the strain of the week was apparent on the president. He was more reserved than usual and gave short, if still winding, answers to questions. At one point, he called on a New York Times reporter who was not at the press conference, and his staff handed the microphone to a local Washington television reporter.
Seated before the president were top advisers including chief of staff Reince Priebus and Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner. He has grown irritated with both in recent weeks according to reports. Off to the side stood embattled press secretary Sean Spicer, whose days behind the podium appear to be numbered.
The closest Trump came to admitting mistake was stating he misread how his firing of former FBI Director James Comey would be received – though it also served as an accusation of hypocrisy.
“Director Comey was very unpopular with most people,” Trump said. “I thought that it would be a bipartisan decision.”
The decision was anything but, and paved the way for the special prosecutor, arguably the most serious threat to Trump’s agenda in an administration that has suffered a series of missteps.
Trump greeted the special counsel appointment with equanimity Wednesday night, according to White House officials. He released a measured statement, saying he would be exonerated.
But by Thursday morning, that calm acceptance had vanished.
“This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” Trump tweeted.
“With all of the illegal acts that took place in the Clinton campaign & Obama Administration, there was never a special counsel appointed!” he added minutes later.
In the afternoon he told television network anchors that the appointment of a special counsel “hurts our country terribly.” The investigation merely represents “a pure excuse for the Democrats having lost an election that they should have easily won,” he said.
Trump is doing nothing to hide his hurt at the way he feels he is being mistreated.
“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media,” Trump told Coast Guard Academy graduates on Wednesday. “No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”
“Nothing is easier or more pathetic than being a critic, because they’re people that can’t get the job done,” Trump told graduates at Liberty University this past Saturday. “But the future belongs to the dreamers, not to the critics.”
It was clear in which category he considers himself.