There's never been a presidential news conference like the one Donald Trump conducted at the White House Thursday afternoon. That's because we saw a president who is not shy about fighting back against the news media.
And he's not going to be shy about fighting on a lot of different fronts at the same time. And it doesn't matter that history and tradition say that kind of fighting isn't "presidential" or "dignified." President Trump doesn't care about those things.
This unprecedented presidential style was evident throughout the long news conference, but five key quotes made this lesson the most clear. Let's go through them one by one:
"You can talk all you want about Russia. Which was all a fake news fabricated deal to try to make up for the loss of the Democrats and the press plays right into it. In fact, I saw some of the people that were supposedly involved. They know nothing about it. They never made a phone call to Russia. They never received a phone call from Russia. It's all fake news."
This emphatic statement actually told us three things. First, President Trump is not going to shy away from being confrontational just because he's now in the Oval Office. Let's face it: Hurling insults like calling the mainstream news media "fake news" is exactly the kind of behaviour that helped Donald Trump win the election. But only Trump himself can really pull this kind of combative stuff off. Spokespeople like Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, and the rest just don't command the situation like the president.
Second, President Trump is taking the 100 per cent "not guilty" plea when it comes to these nagging questions about his team and Russia. There is very little wiggle room from that kind of a statement.
And third, by mentioning the Democrats in that counterattack President Trump is sending a message to Republicans on Capitol Hill that this isn't an issue they need to investigate further. Instead, he's painting it as the same old partisan witch hunt that the GOP should circle the wagons and fight off.
"If Russia and the United States actually got together and got along - and don't forget, we're a very powerful nuclear country and so are they. There's no up-side. We're a very powerful nuclear country and so are they. I have been briefed. And I can tell you one thing about a briefing that we're allowed to say because anybody that ever read the most basic book can say it, nuclear holocaust would be like no other.
"They're a very powerful nuclear country and so are we. If we have a good relationship with Russia, believe me, that's a good thing, not a bad thing."
President Trump is usually depicted as the petulant child in these exchanges. But this quote shows the president as someone who wants to warn the news media that any virulent attempt to take him down could have much more dire consequences.
This is a tactic that could indeed serve the Trump team well if it backs up this extraordinary quote about nuclear holocaust with truly smart diplomatic action.
It's exactly the blueprint President Reagan followed in his presidency to great success.
"I inherited a mess, it's a mess at home and abroad. A mess. Jobs are pouring out of the country. See what's going on with all of the companies leaving. Going to Mexico and other places. Low minimum wages. Mass instability overseas no matter where you go. The Middle East, a disaster. North Korea. We'll take care of it folks. We'll take care of it all."
The first few years of the Obama administration were dominated by repeated blaming of the Bush administration by the new team in the White House. With this quote, President Trump took off the kid gloves he's been using for the most part with President Obama since the election. The president still spent more time during the news conference bashing Hillary Clinton than Barack Obama, but look for more specific criticisms of the previous administration from here on out.
"This administration is running like a fine-tuned machine. Despite the fact that I can't get my cabinet approved. And they're outstanding people."
This statement really got to the heart of the reason why President Trump must have decided to hold this news conference: The news media is filled with stories about an administration in disarray. The Trump team wants to combat that perception and double down on that counterattack by insisting that it's the same news media that's making the administration's job harder. President Trump did just that a little later when he said his Chief of Staff Reince Preibus is having trouble focusing on the legislative agenda because he's been so busy responding to the news media's many accusations of a Russian connection to the White House.
"He [Congressman Elijah Cummings], wanted it [a meeting], but we called, called, called, called. They can't make a meeting with him. Every day I walk in I say, 'I would like to meet with him, because I do want to solve the problem.' But he probably was told by [Senator Chuck] Schumer or somebody like that - some other lightweight - he was probably told, 'Don't meet with Trump. It's bad politics.' And that's part of the problem with this country."
When President Trump talked about the "mess" he inherited from President Obama, that was news but it was also similar to what we've seen from new presidents in the past. But his complaint about a particular Congressman refusing to meet with him because of political pressure was new.
The Congressman in question is Maryland's Elijah Cummings who is a leader in the Congressional Black Caucus. At this point, we have no way of knowing all the real reasons why he hasn't yet met with the president. But this was yet another new way President Trump has come out fighting in a way his predecessors simply wouldn't.
The presidents of the past would probably not even want to risk the embarrassment of admitting a meeting like that was killed. But President Trump is used to fighting and seems to genuinely like it. If he feels he's being snubbed, we cannot expect him to show any shame or restraint in complaining about it.
And, while Trump emphasised over and over again during the press conference that he is not racist, he is not anti-Semitic, he does really need to do that three-second rule and think before he speaks. In answering that question about why his meeting with Cummings didn't happen, he asked veteran African-American journalist April Ryan if she could help set up a meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus. "Are they friends of yours?"
Buckle up, folks. President Trump is like a live tiger in a news conference. And he is now more emboldened than ever to return to his campaign combative persona.
He's not afraid and he does not shame easily - even when he's sticking his foot in his mouth. And the days of the boring, information-starved, and filibuster-like presidential news conference are truly over.