It is a trap that White House correspondents risk falling into: claiming to know what President Donald Trump is thinking. We know what he says publicly and sometimes we can deduce his mood, as when he spoke to journalists, myself included, on Air Force One after the Oct. 22 debate in Nashville. He was “chatty, even ebullient,” I wrote afterward.
But did President Trump really think he might win the election? It’s hard to say. Perhaps he was projecting confidence but harboring doubts. Fast forward to today with the president making unsubstantiated claims of widespread fraud – debunked by his own government – and questions around Mr. Trump’s inner dialogue become far more consequential. Is he actually trying to steal the election? Or maybe, “by dominating the story of his exit from the White House, he hopes to keep his millions of supporters energized and engaged for whatever comes next,” as New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman suggests, citing insider sources.
“The president has insisted to aides that he really defeated Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Nov. 3, but it is unclear whether he actually believes it,” she writes.
Curiosity about Mr. Trump, this most unusual of American presidents, is widespread. In a Zoom session yesterday with journalism students at the University of Memphis, I was peppered with questions about covering Mr. Trump. I told them, as future reporters, that it’s wise not to make assumptions. And while this president says a lot publicly – whether in person or by tweet – we often can’t take his statements at face value.