Time reporters Michael Scherer and Zeke J. Miller spend dinner with the president and not only observe how the White House has changed under Donald Trump, but how Donald Trump has changed since taking over the White House. (Spoilers: the White House has already had an extreme makeover where maudlin oils have replaced modern art, yet Donald Trump remains essentially the same. He gets two scoops of ice cream and you get one, natch.)
One senior White House official recently outlined the three rules of Trump for a group of reporters: When you’re right, you fight. Controversy elevates message. And never apologize. All of these rules have survived his time in office, if in slightly more modest forms. After bringing new levels of combativeness to the political process, “the only way you survive is to be combative,” Trump says now. “I’ll read stories in the New York Times that are so one-sided. Hey, I know when I am successful. I know victory.”
But that is not all he has to say. Before the dinner breaks up, the President begins to muse about an alternative world to the one he has helped create. “It never made sense to me, the level of animosity,” Trump says. “All you want to do is, like, Let’s have a great military. Let’s have low taxes. Let’s have good health care. Let’s have good education.”
For a moment, he seems to be proposing a more civil public space in American democracy, one the Trump campaign did little to foster and which the Trump Administration is unlikely to experience.
Is this real introspection or just more performance for his guests? The answer isn’t long in coming. Within a day of the plates being cleared away, Trump takes to Twitter to attack “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer,” the Democratic Senate leader. He belittles Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal for once misrepresenting his military service—“he cried like a baby and begged for forgiveness.”
No truce is around the corner. President Trump fights on.