Taking Stock of Trump, One Year Since His Election Washington Post reporter Jenna Johnson (@wpjenna) and Michael D'Antonio, author of the biography "The Truth About Trump," join Sam to talk about the President one the year since he was elected. Email the show at samsanders@npr.org or tweet @NPRItsBeenAMin with your feedback. Follow Sam on Twitter @samsanders and producers Brent Baughman @brentbaughman and Anjuli Sastry @AnjuliSastry.
NPR logo

Taking Stock of Trump, One Year Since His Election

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/562312447/562838069" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Taking Stock of Trump, One Year Since His Election

Taking Stock of Trump, One Year Since His Election

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/562312447/562838069" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


Hey, y'all Sam Sanders here. IT'S BEEN A MINUTE. I want to start out by acknowledging the tragedy that happened just outside of San Antonio this past Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Texas. A shooting at a church during Sunday service that killed more than two dozen people - really, really, really rough story. I - growing up in San Antonio, like many people in the region, spent a lot of my Sundays as a kid in a church house. So to hear about that kind of shooting at that kind of place so close to where I grew up just really hurts. So for all those that have been affected by this, I'm sending good vibes your way.

All right, in other news, if you're hearing this on Tuesday, November 7, it is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, which means it's Election Day, and it's been one year since the election of President Donald Trump. So I wanted to use this episode to look back on that year, see what happened and what it all means. And I brought in some extra help. We have two guests on today's deep dive. Washington Post reporter Jenna Johnson - she covers the Trump White House and she traveled a lot with Trump during the campaign. Also, Michael D'Antonio - he wrote one of the definitive biographies of President Trump. It's called "The Truth About Trump." And for that book, Michael interviewed Trump himself several times for many hours. He wrote about Trump's childhood, his upbringing, his life as a real estate mogul in New York. A lot of good stuff in that book, wish we had time for more of it in this convo, but check the book out - "The Truth About Trump."

Anyway, let's get to it. A small side note - we recorded this last Thursday. And we covered some of the big news from that week like the indictments against Trump's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. For this conversation, Jenna and I were here in D.C. Michael was in New York. Also, one more thing - be sure to listen today to the whole episode because at the end, after this conversation, I have a special request for all of you out there. It is related to my favorite holiday, Thanksgiving. All right. Enjoy.


SANDERS: So, Michael, how long have you been following and reporting on Trump and talking to Trump?

MICHAEL D'ANTONIO: Well, for about five years and most intently during the development of the book, of course, but, like everyone else, I paid attention to him. You can't not pay attention to him if you live in New York.

SANDERS: Yeah. And you had - what? - five or six or seven sit-down interviews with him as well, right?

D'ANTONIO: Yeah about 10 hours.


D'ANTONIO: Even his ex-wives opened up to me and, you know, say what you will, he's a bit of an open book. And I admire that.

SANDERS: OK. And, Jenna, you followed Donald Trump all throughout the campaign. When did you start following Trump?

JENNA JOHNSON: September 2015.


JOHNSON: So it was the end of the summer of Trump and...

SANDERS: ...And then you were with him pretty much extensively.

JOHNSON: And I'm still with him. I cover the White House.

SANDERS: I would see you on the trail. And like, I'd have, like, gotten a week or two off of the trail and I'd come back and you were still there, still slogging through. Like, how many Trump rallies do you think you were at over the course of the campaign?

JOHNSON: Well, as of Election Day, it was over 170.


JOHNSON: And I've been to a lot since then...


JOHNSON: ...And counted it up. I think it was more than 35 states that we were in. And I interviewed just thousands of Trump supporters along the way. Every rally I went to, I tried to get to a dozen or a couple dozen people.

SANDERS: I'd see you doing it. You were one of the hardest working ones out there. So I guess my first question, then, knowing both of your experience with who Trump is - one year in since the election, has any of this, based on what you know of Donald Trump, surprised you?

JOHNSON: No. He is exactly the same person he was on the campaign trail. And he's exactly the same person that he has been for the past 70 years.


JOHNSON: I actually just went back and listened to his victory speech...


JOHNSON: ...On election night.

SANDERS: Which was at - what? - like, 2 a.m.?

JOHNSON: Yeah. And I had watched it in the moment, but I had forgotten what he had said because that night was such a blur of exhaustion and shock and things like that. And it was a very brief speech, but it focused so heavily on unity. I mean, he got up there and the first thing he did was he thanked Hillary Clinton for her service to this country.

SANDERS: I remember that.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time. And we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country. I mean that very sincerely. Now it's time for America to bind the wounds of division - have to get together.

JOHNSON: Yeah, he called for everyone coming together. He said, you know, if you've been my rival in the past, and I know that I've had a lot of them. I want your help now. You know, he didn't talk about the wall. He didn't talk about the Muslim ban. Instead he talked about infrastructure, helping veterans.

SANDERS: It's still infrastructure week, right?

JOHNSON: Yeah exactly...

SANDERS: Anyway.

JOHNSON: You know, he kind of - he had this moment going into the presidency where he kind of set the stage of being someone completely different. But ever since that day, everything that he has said and done is not that new president...


JOHNSON: ...That new Donald Trump.


JOHNSON: It's the Donald Trump that we've known all along, someone who punches back at anyone who attacks him, someone who goes for the controversy, goes for the headline, finds that it's easier to latch onto divisive topics than unifying ones. And while he does sometimes surprise me and I'll say, wow, I can't believe he did that, he actually - it hasn't surprised me.


JOHNSON: I mean, this is who...

SANDERS: It's who he is.

JOHNSON: ...The country elected. This is him

SANDERS: Michael, same question to you. A year after the election, has any of this been a surprise to you?

D'ANTONIO: No. I mean, what's funny - some of the things that have surprised me is that I know he watches when I'm on television. And I actually have heard from him through others. And I...

SANDERS: Oh, wow.

D'ANTONIO: ...Sometimes talk to him through the television (laughter). So early on in his presidency, I would say encouraging things.

SANDERS: And give me an example of the encouraging things you might say to him through the TV.

D'ANTONIO: I would say, you know, most of us are pulling for the president to succeed, that we are ready to set down our disagreements if there is a sign of a direction that everyone can pull in. And I would - I still do this. I look for opportunities to note what he's doing well. But I think that what Jenna saw that night was a brief moment when Donald Trump was terrified. And I think that it lasted about a week. He went and sat with Barack Obama in the White House.

SANDERS: I remember that.


BARACK OBAMA: While I just had the opportunity to have an excellent conversation with President-elect Trump. It was wide-ranging. We talked about some of the organizational issues in setting up the White House. We talked about...

D'ANTONIO: And it was very poignant.


TRUMP: I very much look forward to dealing with the president in the future, including counsel. He's - he explained some of the difficulties...

D'ANTONIO: And then he just reverted to type. And I think that that's not unexpected. He is not someone who's grown out of that type since he was a boy in school.


JOHNSON: And I'm just going to jump in and add that his supporters like that. That's the Donald Trump that they voted for. I think a lot of them would have been disappointed if all of a sudden...

SANDERS: If he were anything else.

JOHNSON: Yeah, he was nice to everyone...


JOHNSON: ...(Laughter) You know, and hiding behind advisers and not being authentic and things like that while many on the East Coast kind of look at some of the things that the president says and does, even things as simple as a typo in a tweet and just say, like, is this presidential?

SANDERS: It's authentic.

JOHNSON: It's authentic. And let's remember how important that was to him getting elected in the first place.

SANDERS: Yeah. You know, what I've been really mulling over in my mind as we approach this year mark of the election is how there's always been this dual narrative of Trump as a man of the people but also Trump as this very wealthy elitist. And it seemed like a lot of the media couldn't square those two Trumps. But what I realize reading your book, Michael, is, like, that's all part of the same Trump. You talk about how in his childhood his father always wanted the kids to be working. And Donald Trump worked a paper route as a kid, even though the family was wealthy, you know, from his father's deals. But his dad, when it rained, would let Donald Trump deliver the papers in the limo - in the family limo.

D'ANTONIO: In the chauffeured limo.

SANDERS: Yeah, chauffeured limo. And this just underscores to me the things that we might think are two Trumps are actually just part of this - of one Trump, even this whole idea of, like, what does Trump really think? And what does Trump really say? As you say in your book, he doesn't see it as lying. It is strategic hyperbole when he says these things that might not be factual. And this is part of his strategy of success.

D'ANTONIO: And all of us know people like this, and we don't hold it against them. They're not the president, but it's a familiar thing. And everyone also knows that we're full of contradictions. And there is something refreshing about a guy who is letting all of his contradictions hang out there and is saying that it's a virtue and that is his honesty that is on display. I also think one thing that's really not fully formed in my mind - but what I think is going on here is a lot of us develop what works for us in school, in elementary school, in high school. We figure out what is the thing that we're good at. And often we apply that same thing, the hammer as if everything's a nail, for the rest of our lives...


D'ANTONIO: And Trump is doing that. And I think a lot of people see, oh, I kind of do the same thing, too, and good for him. He's using his common sense or whatever it is you want to call it.

SANDERS: We should highlight - you know, you mentioned school - he went to military school.

D'ANTONIO: And dominated there because it was a very tough place where certain crude methods worked. It's where he got and sort of crystallized his ideas about women, about society, about winners and losers. It all came from that experience.

SANDERS: And this kind of really - I won't say obsession, but this deep admiration for extreme displays of masculinity. And you can even see that expressed now in his love of, quote, "the generals" and his respect - it seems more respect - for the generals and the military personnel in his administration than some others.

JOHNSON: Exactly. And also with the generals, one reason I think he loves generals so much and he's put so many generals in his administration is not only do they look the part, you know, and they have that strength and they have that competence, but they've spent their whole working life following the chain of command, you know, and following orders and following through on things that they might not agree with, perhaps more so than people who've spent their lives in the civilian world. I guess just one observation on this - I traveled all around the country with Donald Trump. And on the campaign, in those early days, he was so very, very happy. You know...

SANDERS: Oh, yeah.

JOHNSON: ...He had nothing to lose. He was having a great time...

SANDERS: And he would walk into rooms full of thousands of people that loved him.

JOHNSON: He's winning. He was winning. And ever since he entered the White House, I haven't seen that same level of happiness and excitement except for a few occasions. And one of those occasions is when I went to Paris with him. And he was there for the Bastille Day parade...


JOHNSON: ...Which is this big military parade where...

SANDERS: Yes, a lot of pomp and circumstance.

JOHNSON: Exactly. And, you know, all of these tanks are rolling down the avenue and people are cheering and all of the military planes are overhead. And he had wanted to stage something like this during his inauguration.

SANDERS: And he said as much.

JOHNSON: Yeah. And he still would love to do a military parade of this. But just watching him from a distance, you could just tell in his body language that he was excited and that he was happy and that this is what he loved, you know.


JOHNSON: So those around him have kind of stopped him from doing these sorts of shows of military strength, just because of the imagery that that sends. But that is his approach to leadership of a country.

SANDERS: All right, time for a quick break. When we come back, Jenna and Michael will talk about former - Jenna and Michael will talk about former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. He was indicted last week. We will also discuss what it means that the president has fired so many people. All right, BRB.


SANDERS: We obviously have to talk about the events of the last few days. We know that this week the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller has led to some charges. This seems to be, from some reports, the tip of the iceberg. But what was your reaction to it, both of you?

JOHNSON: Yeah. I mean, this has been months in the making. And over the weekend, everyone at the White House was just bracing...


JOHNSON: ...You know? I mean, they didn't know how big or how small...

SANDERS: Or even who.

JOHNSON: ...Or who...

SANDERS: Which points to a problem...

JOHNSON: ...Or what...

SANDERS: ...Because if you don't know who in your team is going to get indicted, that means you think a lot of them could.

JOHNSON: Right. Right. And also, I mean, a lot of people who are working in the White House now were not on the campaign. They were not on the campaign when Manafort was running it. And even those who were on the campaign when Manafort was running it say they weren't aware of these other things that were going on. And so I think for those at the White House, it's kind of been this process of - on their own, kind of, trying to piece things together without, you know, getting involved at all.

SANDERS: Yeah. Yeah.

JOHNSON: And so in a lot of ways, their communications team is kind of like reporters, just kind of waiting...

SANDERS: Trying to see what's...

JOHNSON: ...To see what's going to land, you know, evaluating all these rumors. And this was big. This was big.

SANDERS: Very, very big.

JOHNSON: I mean, Paul Manafort ran that campaign.

SANDERS: For months.

JOHNSON: For months.

SANDERS: And he was still advising it once he left, right?

JOHNSON: Exactly, exactly.

SANDERS: You know, Michael, I was thinking about you and covering the way that Trump deals with being under attack. You know, you write in your book a lot about kind of Trump's M.O. when he's pushed against. He pushes back even harder and denies any guilt and kind of says, actually, I'm the victim. Have we seen that in Trump's response to these charges?

D'ANTONIO: Well, I actually think that hiring Manafort in the first place was Trump who has always been.

SANDERS: Explain. Explain.

D'ANTONIO: Well, I saw a great description of Manafort as somebody who as he approaches you, you think he's going to shoot you or sell you something. (Laughter) You know, he's got that expensive pinstripe suit look with the thousand-dollar tie and all of the men - the so-called (unintelligible) Trump - have had that look. And, you know, Manafort was not somebody who was well known among campaign people. You'd have to go back quite a long way. What he was known for was representing the so-called torturer's lobby in Washington, D.C., where he promoted the interests of Jonas Savimbi or Ferdinand Marcos or any other number of killers (laughter). So it's not the guy that you'd want to bring close if you were seeking to play by the rules and on the level.

SANDERS: You know, I want to talk about some key moments in Trump's last year since the election from which we can possibly draw some bigger, deeper thoughts about who he is and what his presidency will continue to be. One of the biggest legislative moments of Trump's time in the White House so far has to have been the repeated failure to repeal Obamacare. I'm thinking back to that final late-night vote when John McCain was the tiebreaker after, like, weeks and months of back and forth, and could it happen? Will it happen? This bill, that bill. But that failure, Trump's response to that failure, his relative lack of involvement in the nitty-gritty policy of the bill that he wanted to pass, what does it say about him and his style and what we can expect going forward?

JOHNSON: I mean, that was the moment that he learned how Washington works, that you can't just say I want to do this and have it happen.


JOHNSON: You know, there is a lot that he's been able to do with executive orders, but when it comes to getting rid of a health insurance system...

SANDERS: And a big part of the economy now at this point.

JOHNSON: Yeah, and that millions of people rely on, it's not that easy. And people would tell him this on the campaign trail. On the campaign trail, he would say we're going to repeal and replace Obamacare. And everyone would cheer, and he wouldn't really go any further than that. And in interviews and debates, people would push him on replace it with what? And the most we ever got out of him was, you know, just things that are wonderful, things that are tremendous. It's going to be much better. Soon before the election, they rolled out ideas for things that could happen, but this wasn't a plan. This wasn't a replacement plan. And he saw firsthand how legislation comes together and that even if you have majorities in both chambers, this is tough.

SANDERS: It's tough.

JOHNSON: And you have to be very strategic and careful about it, and I think he's slowly learning what his role can and cannot be in that.

SANDERS: You know, Michael, how do we compare his performance in the Obamacare repeal saga to the way he performed as a business leader in New York for so long?

D'ANTONIO: Well, I think that's something worth considering because as a businessman, much of what he did was about command and then leaving the details to everyone else. And there was a bit of a rote quality to it after the first couple of projects. You know, if you're renovating a huge skyscraper, which he did a couple of times, or building a new one at Trump Tower, there's a certain process you go through. You engage the right professionals, you have construction managers and architects and loads and loads of lawyers. He's employed far more lawyers than almost any other category of professional in his life. But it's very similar.

And you can command and sell the product as Donald Trump the character of a real estate magnate, which is something he created. And it's doable. You know, as Jenna observed, though, the process in Washington is so much more challenging to a man like Donald Trump. I think of Obama's professorial bent and the fact that he surrounded himself with so many wonks who understood the health care system inside and out from economists to physicians to people from the hospital sector. You name it, he had players who were veterans and engaged.

SANDERS: Yeah, but those wonks also had a hard time explaining the nuts and bolts in a way that the majority of the American public could understand a different problem, you know?

D'ANTONIO: It's really hard. And that's why, I guess, the first bill was 1,200 pages. And yet, when he came to office and I knew that this was his bent, much of what he wanted to do was simply erase Obama in whatever way that he could. He - when I first met him, I think Obama was the third word out of his mouth. He just had this obsession with somehow overwhelming the image of Barack Obama.

SANDERS: And, you know, what's so funny - I realized reading your book it wasn't always that way. When Obama was president, Trump actually reached out to the White House a few times after the big BP oil spill in the Gulf. Trump volunteered, if I read correctly, to lead the recovery effort because he felt the folks doing it weren't doing it well enough, quickly enough.

D'ANTONIO: And he admired much about Obama at the beginning.

SANDERS: And he spoke favorably about him when he was elected, right?

D'ANTONIO: Right. So this is all - you know, it's consistent with wanting there to be an enemy to fight and to overcome. I think Obama may represent to him a level of popularity - and, actually, popularity with people whom Trump actually covets. He, actually, would love to impress The New York Times and he would love to impress the people who read The New York Times.

SANDERS: And he has said throughout his career, I'm elite. I'm an elite person. I come from the best. I am the best. And it seems as if, as much as he rails against this bourgeoisie, a lot of him, it seems, wants to be in the room with them.

D'ANTONIO: Oh yeah, and it's very - it's been personally painful that especially this crowd in New York rejected him, and he remembers every insult and injury and nurses them.

SANDERS: One of the things that has also been a trademark of Trump's presidency has been the rapid rate of departure of high level and prominent staffers. You know, Donald Trump gained this reputation as someone who was not afraid to say you're fired during his time on "The Apprentice" - his reality show - that kind of took him to that next level of fame, but there have been some reports that in his actual business dealings he is not one that likes to fire people. He's pretty loyal to those that are loyal to him. What about the extreme recurring staff shakeups in the White House, what does that show us about Trump as a leader, Jenna?

JOHNSON: Yeah. So when he was on the campaign trail he always said, I'm going to surround myself with the best people. And I think a lot of people who are critical of him have been hopeful that he will surround himself with the best people and that they'll prevent him from doing things that they don't want him to do. He has had a hard time keeping staff at the White House. I mean, for a while there, we were basically keeping our Friday nights open...



JOHNSON: ...So that we would be ready to cover whoever was leaving.

SANDERS: Well, because Spicer was a Friday night announcement, wasn't Bannon a Friday night announcement?

JOHNSON: I think so, yeah.

SANDERS: Yeah, it was a weird trend for a while.

JOHNSON: Exactly. I mean, we're nine months into this administration, he's on his second chief of staff, he's on his second press secretary, he's on his second national security adviser, his health secretary has left, there's...

SANDERS: And there are other jobs that are just still open.

JOHNSON: ...A number of positions that just aren't filled yet.


JOHNSON: You know, he likes to yell at the Democrats for slowing down the approval process, and that is happening in a lot of cases...

SANDERS: But you've got to appoint them first.

JOHNSON: Exactly. And for - I mean, there are like 600 positions...


JOHNSON: ...That the Senate has to approve, and he has only nominated people for about half of those seats.

SANDERS: Now, supporters might say if the M.O. of this administration is to shrink the size of government, you would never want to appoint some of those jobs, right? To be fair.

JOHNSON: Yeah, yeah. And people have applauded - the first lady has shrunk down her staff...


JOHNSON: ...And people really like that, but then again, like, these are the very top leadership positions. Sure, maybe there are some middle management or lower management or things like that, but there's a lot of agencies that don't have leaders.


JOHNSON: There is a lot of embassies...


JOHNSON: ...That don't have an ambassador.

SANDERS: And there are these agencies - so, like, even just thinking about the EPA. The EPA head, right now, wants to start rolling back lots of regulations. You have to have staff to do the rolling back.

JOHNSON: Yeah. And again, I think that he and his staff showed up at the White House the first day not necessarily really knowing the breadth of the job and everything that they needed to do. You know, one other thing I wanted to add on that is just that with all of these departures, it's also a reminder that Donald Trump is a difficult person to work for. I mean he mocks people who work for him. Reince Priebus, who was his chief of staff, he would call him Reincey (ph) in meetings.

SANDERS: He would joke about Mike Pence, his vice president.

JOHNSON: He would - yeah, exactly. I mean, he can be, in some ways some would say kind of cruel to those who work for him. And he's not afraid to throw other people under the bus and blame them for things not going his way. And so that's part of the reason that we're seeing some of these people leaving. Again, very few people are being fired. A lot of times he just kind of tries to make life so unbearable for them...

SANDERS: Makes you want to leave.

JOHNSON: ...That they leave on their own, you know, but this is a guy who said, you know, you're - you know, you're fired, I'm going to fire you, and...

SANDERS: He actually doesn't really do that.

JOHNSON: Exactly.


JOHNSON: Exactly.

SANDERS: Michael, you feel the same way?

D'ANTONIO: Yes, and he doesn't fire people. He told me directly that he doesn't enjoy that kind of confrontation.

SANDERS: Which is so crazy because it seems like he loves confrontation of all sorts.

D'ANTONIO: Well, he likes the idea of people believing he's confrontational. He'll be confrontational in a staged setting. I think one-on-one, across from a desk, when there's no audience, I don't think he is likely to be very confrontational. He is cruel. That's absolutely right. And he's cruel in a social context. So if there are people around to observe him putting someone down that's when he'll do it. The other thing that is fascinating about the Trump Organization is that it's filled with loyalists who have been there a long time primarily because they've been promoted and rewarded at levels far greater than they would have been elsewhere. So he's not someone who scans the Harvard Law Review and picks a lawyer from that class. He's someone who's more likely to encounter just a guy who impresses him in passing who he then can pluck from obscurity and promote and reward until they never want to leave.

SANDERS: And he can also control someone better that way, right?

D'ANTONIO: Right. Absolutely. But you can't do that in the federal bureaucracy. You know, most of the people who are in his Cabinet or in high positions have their own source of power that predates their relationship with Donald Trump. They can go someplace else and do far better financially and have a better life, in many ways, than they have at the White House. So what does he have to keep them that's in his old repertoire? I don't think there's very much.

SANDERS: Yeah. I want to talk a little bit about the relationship between Trump and the media, which in many ways over the last year since he won election is the same as it's always been - extremely confrontational. But for me the conversation behind the media conversation is Trump and his relationship with fame. You know, from reading your book, Michael, and just from seeing the way that Trump has functioned throughout his entire career, he loves fame. He loves it. And he is constantly seeking it. Has any of your conception of the way that Trump sees fame, Michael - has it changed now that he's in the White House? Or is this just the same guy in a different house?

D'ANTONIO: Well, he's engaged in a different way. I am a little surprised by how persistently he denigrates the press...

SANDERS: But he did that before. That was happening for a while.

D'ANTONIO: During the campaign, yes, and a little bit before that. But as president he's a constitutional officer, and you would hope he'd have some sense of the role the press plays in a democratic society. What I'm really taken by, though, is sometimes he acts like he's reporting the news. He likes to say to people, well, have you just heard? You know, this is the new thing that's happening. And it's almost always a distortion of what's really being reported. And yet he is thrilled at being the person with the information. And as you said, he loves the attention. And this goes back to childhood. He's just completely dependent on other people praising him, giving him attention. Through the media he exists. This is lifeblood to him.

SANDERS: For both of you, what is the one moment in this past year since Trump's election that really defines what the Trump presidency is and might continue to be?

D'ANTONIO: Well, for me, it's him complaining about Comey to his Russian visitors in the Oval Office.

SANDERS: Explain.

D'ANTONIO: Well, the idea that he would be so in his own experience and unaware of the context of what he was doing that he would complain about this guy Comey and hint that he was going to get rid of him and that it was going to be taken care of to the Russian foreign minister and ambassador just seems shocking to me. But it's an emblem of his inability to get out of his own head.


JOHNSON: Yeah. I guess I would go all the way back to his inauguration speech on that first day. And, you know, this is the moment that he became the president. And the speech that he delivered was very dark for an inaugural speech and kind of painted a picture of America that he had been painting on the campaign trail all along of a very bleak place, you know, with boarded-up factories and downtrodden people and things like that, and that he was the person who was going to change this. You know, the way that he talks about America now that he is president is always overly optimistic. When there was that terrible hurricane in Puerto Rico, you know, he has the response of, well, even more people could have been killed and they weren't. You know, that under his leadership...

SANDERS: The best response ever.

JOHNSON: Yeah, the glass is always half full. And that he was stepping into a terrible situation. And that America was terrible before he got here. And that just by becoming president, things have gotten better. And I think that that's kind of a theme that he keeps coming back to even as, you know, health care legislation fails and he can't get funding for his wall - and, you know, there's just kind of been one legislative failure after another - this attitude of, well, it could be even worse if I wasn't president. And I think that that has come to really define his first nine months.

SANDERS: Yeah. I think for me it was seeing his response to Democratic Rep Frederica Wilson and the family of La David Johnson after some folks in the family and Wilson said that Trump's call to them after Johnson's death was a bit callous. It's the kind of thing where you could say regardless of who is right or wrong, just apologize and move on. It's like, just apologize. He did not. His M.O. has always been to never admit guilt, to never admit defeat, to always push back. And I guess - and all of this takes me to my question for you all.

You know, one of the things that stuck with me from the book, Michael, is that one of Trump's strengths for a long time has been this ability to really see around corners. He knew what neighborhoods to invest in in New York at a time when no one wanted to invest in it. He knew that reality TV would be good for him when no one could have seen that coming, right? He knew, Jenna, what to say on the campaign trail without the most high-paid consultants telling him what to say. His ability to see around corners and know what's going to work, it seems as if in the last several months that ability has been diminished. So I guess what I'm saying is has Trump in some ways lost that? Is - has he lost his luck?

JOHNSON: Yeah, well, during the campaign it was almost kind of this Washington parlor game, you know? Is Trump this brilliant strategist who can just see ahead in ways that we can't? Or is he just getting lucky time after time after time? And, you know, campaigning, he really did have an ability to put his finger on these...

SANDERS: What would work.

JOHNSON: Yeah, what would work.

SANDERS: In real time. I'll never forget...

JOHNSON: Exactly.

SANDERS: ...I was in the room when he - or several times where he would say something in the heat of the moment and realize just as he said it that it clicked. And you could see him recognize, this line will work.

JOHNSON: Exactly. Exactly. And that's how - I mean, the perfect example of this was December 2015. He announces that he's going to ban all foreign Muslims from entering the country. Republicans and Democrats were just - everyone came out against it because why wouldn't you come up - out against something that just doesn't seem to jive with our Constitution and our country? Then we see polling that shows that it's popular, and even some Democrats agree with this idea because there's so much fear of terrorism out there. The problem is I think that Donald Trump still has his finger on that pulse. I think it's more difficult now that he's even more isolated in the White House. You know, when he went after this - with the NFL players kneeling, he went there.

SANDERS: He did.

JOHNSON: And he knew that this was going to set people off and that - you know, that he could get the audience to, you know, go against wealthy players and team owners. You know, he knew that that would work. But the thing is it's one thing when you're campaigning and you're trying to get people to support you and the idea of you. It's another thing when you're president and you need to govern, you know? Health care...

SANDERS: He's never had to govern before.

JOHNSON: Right. Health care fell through. In Donald Trump's life, when he does fail, he walks away, you know? He declares bankruptcy. He, you know, blames it on someone else. But he just walks away and does something else. Now that he's president, if you walk away from that, they're...

SANDERS: It's still there.

JOHNSON: Yeah. Americans are still paying. There's middle-class Americans who are still paying $20,000 a year in premiums. There are states that don't know how many health insurance companies they're going to have offering insurance. You know, things are still not working. And his supporters still want him to do what he promised to do. He just - I think he's learning that unlike in business, you can't walk away when things just don't work.

SANDERS: Yeah. Michael, same question to you. Has Trump's ability to see around corners, his ability to be lucky - is it diminished now?

D'ANTONIO: Well, I think he's lost right now. And I think when you talk about him seeing around corners, I imagine a guy walking around Manhattan in the 1970s who did see that there was...

SANDERS: Potential.

D'ANTONIO: ...Potential. And he saw potential on the West Side, he saw potential at Grand Central Terminal with the - what's now the Grand Hyatt. But much of what he saw was potential for promotion, for sales. He would imagine how he could frame a development in a neighborhood as an up-and-coming improvement and sell it to banks that needed to put up the capital. That's very different from being the president. It's not so different from running a campaign. And that's - I mean, this is not a sales job that he's in now. He's in a chief operating officer's role. And he's never been good at operating. That's - when he ran Trump Airways (ph) it failed because it was a complex, difficult thing to operate. It wasn't about sales. The same was true of the casinos. Yeah, there's a lot of razzle-dazzle, but you have to actually manage thousands of employees in a giant casino day in, day out, deliver results. He's not that guy.

SANDERS: OK. I know you've got to go. Quickly, will you or can you make any predictions about what the rest of Trump's term might look like?

D'ANTONIO: Well, he may get tax reform, and yet I think he'll be battling even with members of his own party and looking for enemies left and right. And obviously the Mueller investigation is going to torment him even more acutely, so I don't expect to see much change in the coming year or two.

SANDERS: Well, you've got to run, I know, but...

D'ANTONIO: All right.

SANDERS: ...Thank you so much.

D'ANTONIO: Thanks. Bye, Jenna.

JOHNSON: Bye, it was good talking to you.

D'ANTONIO: OK. Bye-bye.

SANDERS: For you - predictions?

JOHNSON: Well...

SANDERS: I mean, it's hard to make any.

JOHNSON: ...If there's one thing I've learned from this administration it's not to predict anything. But we'll see...

SANDERS: (Laughter) That's what he says. (Laughter).

JOHNSON: You know, we'll see. We'll see what happens. I mean, in some ways he has dug himself some holes that are going to be really difficult to get out of. He does not have a good relationship with a lot of people on the Hill. Members of his own party, people who used to support him and advise him - he's just burned those bridges. And so unless there's some effort to change that, it's going to be difficult for things to change. Now, keep in mind next term - next year is the midterm elections, and you're going to have all these congressional seats that are open. Republicans want to win, you know? They want to win. They want to keep those seats. And, you know - so getting some legislative victories is in their best interest.

SANDERS: Because if I recall correctly, like, the biggest bipartisan accomplishment of the - of Trump's term so far were more sanctions on Russia.

JOHNSON: Yeah. Yeah.

SANDERS: Like, that's all he's gotten.

JOHNSON: Yeah. And, I mean, that's not really something that President Trump is out trumpeting.

SANDERS: Yeah. Exactly. Exactly.

JOHNSON: You know, Republicans do like to - again, they say that they have had accomplishments, that they just haven't gotten much attention from the media. I mean, they did appoint a new...

SANDERS: Supreme Court justice.

JOHNSON: ...Supreme Court justice. And there have been - for conservatives, there have been small victories along the way. People are excited to see these prototypes of the wall going up. They're excited that the president keeps trying to implement some sort of a travel ban. You know, and they're excited to have someone in the Oval Office who speaks his mind, you know?

SANDERS: And is mad at the same people they're mad at.

JOHNSON: Exactly, and who elbows his way around. You know, a lot of times when I'm out in the country talking with Trump supporters I ask them, well, what has he accomplished that you really like or celebrate? What has he done that you love? And they struggle to answer that. And some people kind of jump on that struggle as see? He's delivered nothing, and you still believe in him. But for them it's more of an attitude. Like, they just like that there's someone in there who's not afraid to go after Democrats and Republicans.

But again, we're only nine months in. Over the next couple of years, I think a lot of people want to see one - at least one thing in their personal lives change. You know, maybe that's tax reform that gives them more money in their bank accounts. You know, maybe it is some of these national security initiatives that make them feel safer. But they want their lives to be different, and so far they have nothing to point to when it comes to that.

SANDERS: Yeah. Well, as he says and we say, we'll see.


JOHNSON: We will see.


SANDERS: Jenna Johnson from The Washington Post, Michael D'Antonio, who had to leave a bit early. His book is called "The Truth About Trump." All right, before we go, here is that request I mentioned to you all earlier. We are doing a special, awesome, dressing-filled Thanksgiving episode and we want you to be a part of it. We want to hear your Thanksgiving horror stories. And I know you have them because I do. If you have a Thanksgiving horror story about food or whatever I want to hear about it. Email me. Tell me about it - samsanders@npr.org. Here's the thing, though - to be on the show you've got to be available for a phone call with me between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. East Coast time on Tuesday, November 14. OK? You've got to be available during that window.

I'll be making those calls with a special guest - you'll find out who that is soon - and we just want to hear all about your Thanksgiving horror stories. So leave your number and make sure you're free when you email us Tuesday, November 14, between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. East Coast time. Send me your Thanksgiving horror stories - samsanders@npr.org. All right? All right. We're back on Friday with our Weekly Wrap. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Sam Sanders. Talk soon.


Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.