When he’s feeling particularly defensive in an interview, Donald Trump calls out for “the list.”
When the Associated Press asked Trump on Tuesday what he would do if House Democrats, in a majority, sought his tax returns, he replied curtly: “They have to do whatever they do, and I’ll do whatever I do.”
But then something in his brain did something, and he launched into his familiar (sometimes laughter inducing) patter about having had “the most successful two years in the history of this country as a president.”
I’m guessing AP reporters Catherine Lucy, Zeke Miller and Jonathan Lemire looked skeptical, or impatient, or maybe couldn’t entirely stifle a chuckle, because Trump suddenly called out for “the list.”
Trump: And, would get me the list? Would you get me the list, please?
AP: Do you think you have the legal team necessary?
Trump: I have the most successful. Nobody has done what I’ve done, and nobody has come close in the first two years of office. And that’s despite the fighting, the Democrats’ obstruction.
Unidentified: I have extra copies …
Trump: Here, these are just some. I just put them down rough. But take a look at that. You all set?
AP: Yeah, yeah.
Trump: I mean, you go point after point, each point is a major event, but you just take a look. Confirmed more circuit court judges than any other new administration. Soon it will be than any administration in history. Who is the one, who’s the one president that percentage-wise has done better than me? There’s only one. George Washington — 100 percent.
Trump: Nobody has gotten that yet.
“The list,” whose authorship we can possibly now trace back to Trump himself, was distributed by the White House press office in early September as a rebuttal to excerpts from Bob Woodward’s book, “Fear.” It came alongside statements from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders to the effect that Trump “has broken through the bureaucratic process to deliver unprecedented successes for the American people,” and from Chief of Staff John Kelly, who insisted that “The idea I ever called the President an idiot is not true.”
But now, “the list” has become a sort of psychic totem for Trump, a security blanket, a pacifier. He calls for it when he’s flustered.
New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi had a brush with “the list” during her bizarre private press conference with Trump on October 9.
Nuzzi, a gutsy 25-year-old phenom in the press corps, had attracted Trump’s attention, and he was troubled that she was working on a story about dysfunction in the White House and his possible imminent firing of Kelly (who did NOT call Trump an idiot) as his chief of staff.
“You’re gonna have to write what you have to write, but the truth is, we have a really smooth-running White House and nothing and nobody has done more in their first two years as president,” Trump insisted. “We’re not even up to the second year.”
Then, as Nuzzi explained in her article, he beckoned for “the list”:
The president craned his neck slightly upward, in the direction of the door. “Could you give me the list, please?” he asked, raising his voice so a secretary could hear. “I’ve gotta give you the list. Nobody has come close to doing what we’ve done in less than two years as president. Whether it’s regulations or tax cuts or so many other things.” The secretary walked into the room, holding two sheets of computer paper. “Give that to Olivia,” Trump said. “These are just some of the things that were done since taking office,” he told me.
Nuzzi described it thusly:
The pages were stamped with 58 bullet points, typed in a large font. At the top, underlined, bold, and all-caps, it read, “TRUMP ADMINISTRATION ACCOMPLISHMENTS.” On the first page, the points related mostly to jobs numbers or executive orders or promises from the tax-reform bill. On the second page, there were more puzzling accomplishments like, “Republicans want STRONG BORDERS and NO CRIME. Democrats want OPEN BORDERS which equals MASSIVE CRIME.”
“So,” Trump went on, “it would be great to have an accurately written story, because we do have — when you walk in here, I think you see, if you read something, it’s totally different than the fact.”
“The list” is Trump’s way of deflecting reality. It has become the central text of the alternative-fact universe that he shares with Fox News and members of his base,.
Here he is almost begging Nuzzi to accept “the list” as the truth.
“So what I’m saying— and this is not even updated. We have achieved a lot in the last month and a half, two months, since that’s been done. But we’ve done a really great job and it’s so reported by those that are, by those that want it to be accurately reported. And I think, at least, I should be able — because I know you’re gonna go in and write something — at least I should be able to tell you, out of respect, that the relationships are very good and I think you could say, Sarah, that the relationships in the White House have been very good, especially over the last six months, seven months. It’s been very, very smooth. It’s been a very smooth-running White House.” Sanders agreed.
To be fair, “the list” doesn’t only make an appearance when Trump is suddenly on the defensive.
He pulled it out at a rally in Las Vegas on September 20, read it out loud and riffed on it for 11 solid minutes. “Look at this,” Trump said, having pulled the list out of his breast pocket. “So I said just write down some of the things. Each one, each one, point, point, point, four-and-a-half pages.”
UPDATE (8:30 a.m. October 18, 2018)
Olivia Nuzzi tells me she tweeted a picture of her list:
Here are the papers Donald Trump gave me yesterday, by the way: pic.twitter.com/k57cX5G2LF
— Olivia Nuzzi (@Olivianuzzi) October 11, 2018
And she notes that the list made an appearance during an interview with the Daily Caller’s Saagar Enjeti and Vince Coglianese on September 4. This one contains yet another origin story:
Trump: “I did have something done for you guys cause I figured you may…”
White House Communications Director Bill Shine: “Sir, right on top of the little….”
Trump: “Oh, good, thank you. I just had this made up. This doesn’t even, no president in history has done what I’ve done in two years. The other side is going crazy, they are lunatics. And here’s a list of things that I’ve done that you guys can have. I just had it made up for you because you guys have always been fair. “