WASHINGTON — Air Force One has become a flying call center, the Oval Office, a revolving door of journalists, dignitaries and celebrities. Rock stars and cabinet secretaries wander the White House driveway, a place that at any given moment can be the site of an impromptu news conference.
When President Trump enters one of the more talkative cycles of his presidency — and ahead of the midterms, post-Supreme Court confirmation, he is definitely in one — the environment around him becomes a stage, and inevitable questions of a grand strategy arise.
But there is none, people close to him say. His aides are simply clearing a path as the president speaks — and speaks, and speaks, and speaks — up for himself.
“Honestly, it’s Donald Trump in full,” is the way Kellyanne Conway, the counselor to the president, explained it. “His critics would swear that the president is predictable and yet they’ve become quite predictable. They sound the same. He’s still mixing it up.”
With weeks to go until the midterms, Mr. Trump is hosting several “Make America Great Again” rallies a week, which, at 60 to 90 unedited minutes each, cable networks have stopped reliably carrying in prime time. This is on top of several impromptu interviews and surreal media availabilities: “You are tasting a fine wine!” the rapper Kanye West exclaimed as he sat across from Mr. Trump in the Oval Office on Thursday.
As usual, Mr. Trump has kept fact checkers busy.
Aside from using at least three unedited rally hours this week to level factually inaccurate claims against his enemies, the president also submitted an op-ed attacking the Democrats’ “Medicare for All” proposals in USA Today that was eventually deemed misleading by the news outlet.
He falsely accused Democrats of wanting to turn the United States into Venezuela in interviews on Fox News, wrongly attributing the country’s economic crisis to its health care system.
He repeated the falsehood that United States Steel is opening “seven plants” to a crowd of supporters in Pennsylvania; it has announced none. He cited a nonexistent bill to claim that Democrats supported “open borders” at a rally in Kansas.
In the midst of all this activity, the White House press briefing has faded away, replaced by a president happy to speak to his own set of facts. White House aides whose jobs require out-yelling on-camera questions from journalists have (at least temporarily) lowered their voices.
In the center ring is the president, who consistently believes that the more he speaks, the better his coverage. Mr. Trump, people close to him noted, is happy to be temporarily free of headlines related to the special counsel’s investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russian officials or details of his extramarital affairs. He feels as if questions about the Mueller inquiry, Stormy Daniels or Michael Cohen have been asked and answered.
This means that members of the news media are apparently no longer the enemy of the people, but the people he calls before bedtime.
“If he’s going to be the No. 1 topic of conversation across the country every day anyway,” Ms. Conway said, “he might as well weigh in.”
In recent weeks, members of the White House communications team — including Bill Shine, a former co-president of Fox News and now deputy chief of staff for communications, and Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the press secretary — have receded into the background as Mr. Trump has taken on his full share of communications duties.
“The president is always the best messenger,” Ms. Sanders said, “and we are proud he is so accessible and always communicates directly with the American people.”
Several people close to the president said that Mr. Trump was encouraged by what he regarded as the success of his 81-minute news conference during the United Nations General Assembly and another lengthy one in the Rose Garden on the renegotiation of Nafta. During both, the president seemed energized as he engaged in conversational fisticuffs with reporters.
And that energy reaffirmed his desire to speak more. Now reporters are finding themselves on the receiving end of late-night phone calls and impromptu Oval Office interviews, and the White House is on the receiving end of a deluge of interview requests.
Aside from taking requests from Fox News — he is already scheduling interviews into next week, including one with Fox Business on Tuesday — requests from the legacy media, such as “60 Minutes,” hold a particular allure for a president who has boasted to allies that he can’t believe how frequently he has been on the front page of The New York Times since he became president.
When he does not appear on the front page of his favorite papers, two former aides said, he has made it a point to do or say something to get there the next day.
Is presidential overload possible? At least one former White House press secretary doesn’t think so.
“Every reporter should be celebrating,” said Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush’s press secretary. “And it will be a good strategy until something comes up from which the president will likely hide.”
Others see Mr. Trump headed toward treacherous territory as he repeatedly speaks off the cuff. When asked about the fate of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi columnist for The Washington Post who is believed to have been murdered, Mr. Trump seemed less concerned about Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance than he did about the idea of losing money from the Saudis should a lucrative arms deal fall through.
“I would not be in favor of stopping a country from spending $110 billion — which is an all-time record,” Mr. Trump said, referring to an inflated figure of arms deals that will, for the most part, create jobs in Saudi Arabia.
On Friday, Mr. Trump said he would be placing a call to the Saudi king. “Nobody’s been able to put it all together,” Mr. Trump said to reporters.
Mr. Fleischer said the president’s comments in real time about the situation were not a danger. Instead, he said, they reveal the “timing and the pace of what he’s thinking.”
But not everyone who has served at the White House podium thinks the window into Mr. Trump’s psyche comes without risk.
“The only problem with a president who talks too much is that he might make his ignorance obvious,” said Mike McCurry, who served as press secretary under President Bill Clinton. “That’s why presidents get briefed, rehearse talking points, do practice sessions before facing the media and generally never do what Trump does, which is to wing it.”
With the news media in Washington barely keeping up with a president who speaks wherever he goes, fatigue may be showing through outside the capital: The sheer frequency of the president’s rallies, and the repetitive speeches he gives, appear to have strained some viewers’ patience.
Fox News, after routinely breaking into regular programming for gavel-to-gavel coverage of Mr. Trump’s speeches, has cut back in recent weeks.
The change coincided with a ferocious news cycle, including the contentious Supreme Court confirmation of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, which earned Fox News some of its highest ratings in years. And it was not lost on some at the network that the numbers for pundits like Tucker Carlson were roughly the same as — and in some cases better than — Trump on the stump.
Hourlong speeches in prime time were also cutting into some of the network’s most lucrative advertising blocks. Inside Fox News, a producer is usually tasked with monitoring Mr. Trump’s speeches, with the network ready to cut to a live feed in case the president says something genuinely newsworthy.
The president, a cable news obsessive, has mentioned the lack of prime-time coverage, but doesn’t seem to be particularly annoyed about it, according to his aides. These days, he is usually on to the next event.
“If he’s doing four rallies, four interviews and eight pool sprays a week,” Ms. Conway said, “in some ways, he’s already ubiquitous.”
Katie Rogers reported from Washington, and Maggie Haberman from New York. Linda Qiu contributed reporting from Washington, and Michael M. Grynbaum from New York.