Donald Trump did what president-elects do: an extended sit-down interview with the country’s most venerated television news magazine show. But his Sunday night sit-down on “60 Minutes” did little to clear up the opacity of what his first 100 days in the White House, never mind the rest of his term, will look like from a policy standpoint.
As for the future of FBI Director James Comey or a potential investigation into Hillary Clinton? Trump hasn’t decided. On his top three agenda items—healthcare, immigration and taxes? No specifics. On the implications of the conservative majority he’s likely to appoint to the Supreme Court? He’ll talk about that later. Why would a candidate who pledged to “drain the swamp” of Washington insiders add so many D.C. lobbyists to his transition team? Change, Trump said, takes time.
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The former reality television star, after 17 months of overtaking the country’s culture and every political rival who stood in his way, pledged to be the same person inside the Oval Office as he has always been on our television screens, rally stages and within our national consciousness. He will continue to exaggerate, to generalize, to obfuscate, to blame and to tweet.
“It’s a great form of communication,” Trump said of his Twitter feed (Sunday morning, hours before the interview aired, Trump fired off three tweets slamming the New York Times). In a rare moment of specificity during the interview, the president-elect mentioned the number of new followers he gained on Thursday: 100,000 people. “I’m not saying I love it, but it does get the word out.”
His approach to Twitter mirrors his general boardroom-style approach: everything is open to negotiation. And his behavior and rhetoric are likely to remain every bit as malleable as his ideological leanings—which is to say: dependent on the situation and the role he is attempting to play at the time.
“You know, I’ll conduct myself—in a very good manner, but depends on what the situation is, sometimes you have to be rougher,” Trump told Leslie Stahl during the interview taped Friday inside his Manhattan penthouse apartment.
Asked about the incendiary language that defined his campaign, making him the most polarizing and, according to public polling throughout the campaign, the least popular presidential nominee in history, Trump claimed it was strategic.
“Sometimes you need a certain rhetoric to get people motivated. I don’t want to be just a little nice monotone character and in many cases I will be,” he said.
“Can you be?” Stahl asked.
“Sure I can,” Trump responded. “I can be easily, that’s easier. Honestly to do that, it’s easier.”
During the hour-long interview, Trump projected a calmer, relatively humbler persona that he rarely displayed as a candidate. He praised Hillary Clinton for her gracious concession call and spoke warmly about his conversation Thursday with President Obama, remarking about the complete lack of awkwardness between them, despite several years as bitter adversaries. Asked if his victory was a “repudiation” of the Obama presidency, he demurred.
“No, I think it’s a moment in time where politicians for a long period of time have let people down,” Trump said. “They’ve let them down on the job front. They’ve even let them down in terms of—the war front.”
But Trump, who told Stahl he is not intimidated or scared by the weight or gravity of the presidency, struggled to grapple with the consequences of his divisive campaign—and with some of the likely consequences that would arise if he follows through on many of his policy proposals.
Asked about the protests that have erupted in dozens of cities in response to Trump’s election, Trump attempted to minimize the demonstrations as “a very small amount” —the crowd of 7,000 people in Oakland, Calif., on Wednesday night was larger than some of Trump’s own rallies — and driven largely by “professional protesters” and over-reported by a biased media. When Stahl pressed for a response to reports of racial slurs and threats against blacks, Hispanics and LGBTQ Americans, Trump expressed surprise and then asked anyone harassing minorities to stop.
“I am so saddened to hear that. And I say, ‘Stop it.’ If it– if it helps,” Trump said, turning from Stahl to another camera positioned inside his Trump Tower apartment. “I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it.”
Trump responded to questions about his pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare by promising to ensure that people with preexisting coverage continue to be guaranteed healthcare, as they are under the current law. He also sought to allay the anxieties of gays and lesbians when he asserted that same-sex marriage is the law of the land: “It’s done. These cases have gone to the Supreme Court. They’ve been settled. And I’m—I’m fine with that,” he said.
And Trump acknowledged the possible reality of appointing a pro-life Supreme Court majority that could overturn Roe v. Wade, but seemed reluctant to consider the implications. When pressed by Stahl, he agreed that some women will “perhaps have to go—they’ll have to go to another state.”
“And that’s OK?” Stahl responded.
“Well, we’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “It’s got a long way to go, just so you understand. That has a long, long way to go.”
Asked several times if he was stunned to have won or by the gravity of the job ahead of him, Trump admitted that it took him a few minutes to process the enormity of what he’d accomplished as he watched the returns come in with his family Tuesday night.
“I realized this is a whole different life for me now,” Trump said.
There is still far more uncertainty, however, for many Americans about how their lives may be changed than there is for Trump and his family, who joined him for the interview as it progressed. They will continue to co-star in a reality drama that has only just begun, that will have implications for every American whether they tune in or not.
Trump, ever cognizant of building the drama, has quickly understood that his last 17 months of rallies, debates, interviews and innuendos are but the opening act. Already, he’s teasing the surprises to come over the next four years and trying hard not to let his audience predict how it all may play out.
Asked about asking the government to continue to investigate Clinton, Trump seemed conflicted about doing so yet unable to completely close the door.
“They’re, they’re good people,” he said. “I don’t want to hurt them.
“And I will give you a very, very good and definitive answer the next time we do ‘60 Minutes’ together.”