Does Trump’s confrontational style help him as president?

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U.S. President Donald Trump holds a news conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 16, 2017.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria   - RTSZ0Q4

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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now for two different viewpoints on today’s news conference, I am joined by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. He was an adviser to Mr. Trump during his presidential campaign and transition. And Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus.

Welcome back to the program to both of you.

Ruth, I’m going to start with you.

This is the first sort of wide-ranging, full-blown news conference we have seen from this president in several weeks. What did you make of it overall?

RUTH MARCUS, The Washington Post: It was, as everybody has been saying, an extraordinary event.

And I think it had kind of three audiences. One audience was the president himself. I think he likes to do this sort of government by improv. He did campaign by improv. Now he’s doing government by improv.

You could see him enjoying himself. I think it made him feel better. I think there is a core of Trump supporters who, as he said during the campaign, he could shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue. They are not rattled by anything they have seen. They’re sticking with him, so they’re happy to sort of see him back out there being Trump.

I thought it was less successful with the third audience, which is the most important. There are a bunch of people who are never going to be for Trump. Most Democrats, polls show, will never be for Trump. But there are Trump voters and others who are kind of wigglers who I think would be very — certainly not reassured by this performance, not being reassured by hearing him say, contrary to all evidence, that this is a well-functioning machine that they’re seeing in the beginning of this administration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was this a reassuring news conference or something else?

KRIS KOBACH, Kansas Secretary of State: I think, to many conservatives, many Republicans, it was reassuring, in the sense that this was the first time we have seen a president, a conservative president, really express vocally at a press conference the bias he feels and many of us feel has been given in the coverage toward the Trump administration.

And so he’s sort of holding the press’ feet to the fire while he’s taking their questions. And it’s combative. It’s interesting. I think you are going to see a lot more people tuning in to these press conferences.

It used to be that conservatives who were in government, like myself, we would get what we felt was unfair coverage, we’d go home, we would grumble, we would complain about it, but we actually wouldn’t say anything to the reporter or to the reporters while they’re asking us additional questions.

He’s very confrontational. And I think that’s refreshing. So I think it actually is going to be good. And I think the public is going to take an interest in these press conferences much more so than in past presidencies.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ruth, it is the case this president goes on about the press virtually every chance he gets. We heard that today. It took up so much time in his news conference.

You and I know, as somebody — we have covered this for a long time. Every president feels that he has gotten unfair, dishonest coverage from the news media. Is there something quantitatively, qualitatively different about the coverage of this president?

RUTH MARCUS: Absolutely, both quantitatively and qualitatively.

Other presidents behind the scenes mutter epithets about us. He calls us the lowest form of human life to our face. Other presidents tried their best to go around the media that they don’t think are expressing their views. President Trump just is — is just very, very vocal about that and much more — spends much more time being vocal about that.

The question that I have — certainly, I agree with Kris that this is must-see TV. If you’re interested in ratings, if that’s the test of a successful presidency, this is — we’re doing great here.

I don’t think that’s the test. And his basic argument was fake — to try to distract from the Russia story and the other bumps, you’re all fake news.

But it can’t simultaneously be that we’re really upset about leaks and the news — that the leaked news is fake. And so that’s where I thought his argument really fell short.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What about that, Kris Kobach, this notion that you can say all day long that you’re getting dishonest coverage, go after the press, but, in the end, does that help him govern?

KRIS KOBACH: Sorry. I missed — my earpiece — I missed the last part.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does it help President Trump govern by spending so much time criticizing the news media?

KRIS KOBACH: So, that’s a great question.

I think it may. And time will tell, because we haven’t really seen a president challenging the press’ coverage right after he gets it. And let’s remember, it’s a mixed bag. There are some programs. I think “PBS NewsHour” is very balanced and plays it down the middle, but there are other programs that do not.

And so I think we will see if it helps him govern. For example, the — let’s take the example of the travel ban. Now, that was characterized by some media outlets as a Muslim ban, which I think is an inaccurate term. And I think most — any fair person would agree that’s inaccurate.

It’s a temporary travel ban on seven countries, which have majority Muslim population, but there are many, many other countries, the vast majority of the Muslim world is not covered.

And so that’s an example where he then took the press to task, said, no, this is not fair coverage. And I think there has been more accurate coverage since then. So, it may help him govern, but I think it’s going to be case by case. In some cases, it will. Maybe, in some cases, it won’t.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Ruth, clearly, there were a number of other questions about contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia. He repeatedly said he wasn’t aware of any such thing.

Does that put all those questions to rest?

RUTH MARCUS: The Trump administration only wishes that all those questions are put to rest.

What we know is that he was briefed about contacts between the campaign and intelligence officials. He says he’s not aware of any, but there are clearly things out there.

He got — this story about General Flynn, who he says was terribly treated by us in the news media, yet he fired him because he was misleading about these contacts. I think we’re just beginning to get the beginnings of the story about what has really happened with Russia and with General Flynn and possibly with the Trump campaign.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Secretary Kris Kobach, again secretary of state of Kansas, what about this Russia question, just quickly?

We did hear, as Ruth just said, the president said, I would have told my national security adviser to be — to go ahead and talk to the Russian ambassador about sanctions.

But, if that’s the case, why was that something that we now know — or apparently Michael Flynn didn’t level with the vice president and others about?

KRIS KOBACH: I think I heard the question. Correct me. And, again, I apologize for the earpiece.

Look, I think the president is relating what he remembers and what he has understood to be the communications that he’s aware of. And I think he was very clear, and I think it’s correct, that the reasons for Mr. Flynn’s departure — General Flynn’s departure were a matter of trust, not a matter of any violation of any law or a regulation.

So, I do think this particular one is being perhaps blown — and I think the president was frustrated by the press coverage, which really seems to be making quite a mountain out of maybe not a molehill, but not a mountain, blowing this particular personnel question way out of proportion.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, he went on for an hour and 17 minutes. Much more to discuss.

Thank you both for being here, Ruth Marcus, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

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