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Journalists Reflect On What They've Learned During Trump's First 100 Days

Apr 29, 2017
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Finally today, all this hour we've been reflecting on President Trump's first 100 days in office. We'll have some final thoughts from NPR political correspondent Mara Liasson who's been with me throughout the hour. And we're joined now by Robert Costa. He's a political reporter for The Washington Post. He's interviewed President Trump many times.

The president even called him up when the Republican health care bill fell apart, and he has a new responsibility. He's just been named the latest host of the longtime public broadcasting political talk show Washington Week. He's here with us in our studios. Robert, welcome and congratulations to you.

ROBERT COSTA: Thank you.

MARTIN: So as a person who's covered President Trump, what have we learned about him over the past 100 days?

COSTA: When I think back to that call from President Trump when the health care bill fell apart, he reflected on his first 50 or so days, and he said he couldn't believe about how much factional infighting existed within the U.S. House, within the U.S. Senate, both chambers controlled by Republicans. And, you know, I think when he looks back at these first hundred days, when I look back at it as a reporter, this is really about a non-ideological president, an outsider befuddled and struggling with the insiders in the Republican Party, a Republican Party that's been split along several fault lines for a long time.

MARTIN: Let me just play a clip from an interview that the president gave to Reuters on Thursday. This is what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I love my previous life. I have so many things going. I actually - this is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier. I thought it was more of a - I'm a details-oriented person. I think you would say that, but I do miss my old life. This - I like to work, so that's not a problem, but this is actually more work.

MARTIN: Well, you know, as you can imagine, you know, social media has gone crazy over this saying - you know, you can imagine. But - so, Robert, what do you say about this? And then, Mara, of course, you know I want to hear what you have to say as well.

COSTA: White House officials - they point to President Trump's speech at the NRA convention on Friday, that defiant talk as the real President Trump, but I think the real President Trump was actually revealed in that interview, a wistful Trump, someone who's 70 years old, who came into office not really understanding Washington.

And he hasn't been back to New York in his first 100 days. He retreats to the golf course, his own properties almost every weekend. He's someone who hasn't loved the job. As much as he wants to accomplish things in the eyes of his aides and his confidants, he is someone who really doesn't love Washington.

MARTIN: Mara, what do you say about this? And do you think you've learned anything about President Trump these past 100 days?

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Yeah. Well, one of the things we've learned about him, I think, is that his negotiating skills are not as advertised. I mean, one of the things he was - promised to do was get people in a room, work out the deal. And, instead, what we've seen in this last week which I think has been a real microcosm of the whole first 100 days is he kind of negotiates with himself. He floats a trial balloon, then he backs off. He kind of calls his own bluff, and then tries something different. That's been surprising.

But the other thing that I thought was interesting is Donald Trump because he, as Bob said, was pragmatic, non-ideological, he had a set of instincts, but not a real overarching plan for how he was going to remake the Republican Party, there was a big question about could he turn the Republican Party into the Workers Party that Steve Bannon saw? And we haven't seen him do that.

And that's what's been really interesting to me. He's almost subcontracted his presidency to the existing Republican establishment that he called stupid and that he actually obliterated during the campaign. And that's why I said what we're seeing is something that's like a xenophobic version of the Mitt Romney administration. I mean, something that's kind of a regular conservative administration, maybe less competent with a kind of heaping of nativism on top.

MARTIN: Has he changed the country, Robert?

COSTA: He has not. And I think Mara's point is spot on because he is confronted by institutions, by the courts on so much of his executive authority. He's moving on immigration and trade. He finds himself not being able to do everything he wants to do. But remember Steve Bannon, this populist, nationalist figure from the fringes of American political life, is still in the White House.

And as much as Speaker Ryan and Jared Kushner and Leader McConnell are shaping the agenda, this is still a Donald Trump who goes to the NRA and throws out red meat to the base who speaks in strident ways about populism, about disrupting American politics. So I think if he continues to be frustrated by the Republican Party, we could see him turn away even more from some of the conventional politics that have guided him so far.

MARTIN: Mara, just give us a final thought.

LIASSON: Yeah, but, you know, what Bob is onto - and he knows the inner workings of the Republican party animal more than anyone - is there aren't a lot of Trumpists in the Republican Party on Capitol Hill. He kept on talking about it - we have this movement. It's a great movement. The movement was his rallies. The movement was not a bunch of people in the Republican Party who thought like him. He needs Trumpism on Capitol Hill if he's going to really remake the party.

MARTIN: Mara, final thought from you. What should we look - be looking at in the next 100 days? What should we keep our eyes on?

LIASSON: Can they staff the government? Can he resolve the tension between the kind of Wall Street wing of the White House and the Steve Bannon national populist wing? Because to me, he goes back and forth. He even said in an interview - he said I'm a nationalist and a populist. I'm both. I mean, I'm a globalist and I'm a populist. I'm both. Whoa. So I guess that's what I'm waiting to see if he resolves those tensions.

MARTIN: That is Mara Liasson national political reporter for NPR. She was nice enough to spend the hour with us. Mara, thanks so much for that. Robert Costa is a reporter for The Washington Post and the new host of Washington Week. He was kind enough to join us on his way to one of those fancy dinners in Washington, D.C. that we hear so much about.

LIASSON: He's wearing a tuxedo.

MARTIN: Yes, and looking quite handsome as I - if I may say. Robert Costa, thank you so much for joining us.

COSTA: Appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.