The exchanges were a reminder that Mr. Trump, who rose to fame in the Manhattan tabloids and as a star on reality TV, often views his interactions with journalists as a role-playing exercise: the put-upon commander in chief facing down an army of nit-pickers, with an eye toward the viewers at home.
Even inside the ballroom, Mr. Trump’s Catskills one-liners and discursive riffs prompted a mix of gasps, shaking heads and stifled laughter. The George Washington material earned a few genuine guffaws.
When Mark Landler of The New York Times raised his hand, Mr. Trump agreed to call on him, “in honor of a paper I once loved.” That earned some groans.
“We’re kind of thriving, not failing, these days,” Mr. Landler said.
“Oh, you’re doing very well,” the president said. “Say, ‘Thank you, Mr. Trump.’” (“I think I’ll stop short of that,” Mr. Landler replied.)
Toward the end, Mr. Trump drove home the metaphor of news conference as performance. Musing on when he should wrap up, the president invoked a favorite artist of his, Elton John: “He said, ‘When you hit that last tune and it’s good, don’t go back.’”
But if Mr. Trump’s sarcastic tone was meant to leaven the proceedings, he could not escape the gravity of current events.
The journalists who asked questions zeroed in on the serious topics of the day: global trade; American relations with China, North Korea and the Middle East; as well as a Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh, imperiled by mounting allegations of sexual misconduct.