Most presidents would have nightmares if they were staring down the current state of global affairs: a trade war, a teetering market, a possibly-nuclear North Korea, political rivals overtaking Congress, a nation-state allegedly murdering their journalists, the creeping threat of climate change. Donald Trump, however, sat quite pretty during his first visit to 60 Minutes in two years, delivering a brazenly confident, if oftentimes confused, paean to his midterm legacy—even with enemies in the White House and Washington and the media and the world. “I know all these things,” he bragged to Leslie Stahl. “I mean—I’m not a baby. I know these things.”
At that point, he was referring to Stahl’s observation that Kim Jong-Un, whom Trump said he “fell in love” with, was a murderous dictator with countless atrocities in his history. But it also could have referred to the extended victory lap he has been running ever since he clinched a new trade deal and the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, neither of which has moderated his conviction that he is presiding over the most consequential presidency in history, the protestations of his critics be damned. Trump, after all, appears to have learned that there is no benefit to be gained from modesty or regret. When Stahl asked if Trump could think of any “mistakes” he had made thus far, he could only cite his failure not to enact his agenda faster.
Indeed, with 23 days left until a midterm election that threatens his hold on Congress, Trump refused even to acknowledge the universe of alternative facts and negative polling that threaten his presidency. “I’m not going to get into it because we won,” he said at one point, cutting off Stahl when she asked why he had mocked Christine Blasey Ford, the woman who Kavanaugh of sexual assault, when he could have taken the opportunity to try to unify a divided country. “It doesn’t matter,” he finally explained, exasperated, after first trying to deny the premise. “We won.”
Why was he not tougher on Vladimir Putin, for instance? “I think I’m very tough with him personally,” he claimed, saying Putin “probably” ordered assassinations and poisonings and interfered with the 2016 election—“But I think China meddled too,” he added. (“This is amazing. You are diverting the whole Russia thing,” Stahl responded.)
And what about separating children from their undocumented families at the border, an unpopular policy that he enforced, only backing down under public pressure? “You know, Barack Obama had the same thing,” he said, bulldozing over the fact that Obama never enforced it. “And frankly, when you don’t do separa— when you allow the parents to stay together, okay, when you allow that, then what happens is people are going to pour into our country.” He refused to say whether that meant he would reinstate the policy: “I will only—I can’t—you can’t say yes or no. What I can say is this: There are consequences from coming into a country, namely our country, illegally.”
And in the middle of Trump’s boast about threatening to withdraw from NATO, and leveraging tariffs on those European allies in retaliation, he stomped on his secretary of defense, James Mattis, for reportedly warning him that the 70-year-old alliance was the only thing preventing World War III. “Frankly, I like General Mattis. I think I know more about it than he does. And I know more about it from the standpoint of fairness, that I can tell you.” (He later hinted that Mattis might leave the White House, calling him “a bit of a Democrat”.)
With roughly three weeks left until the midterms, Trump’s insistent salesmanship appeared to be strategic: the Democrats have made this election a referendum on Trump’s presidency, a message that the Republicans, too, have happily embraced. The Kavanaugh debacle provided a much-needed jolt to their electorate, in that it bolstered the argument that the Democrats would do anything to undermine Trump, a message repeated by Trump himself during his innumerable rallies across the country over the past few weeks. To that end, Trump’s 60 Minutes interview was not about him engaging his civic duty to submit to the occasional tough interview, but rather an opportunity to remind his base why they elected him: to make America great by humiliating its elites, including his very interviewer that night. “Lesley, it’s okay,” he smirked, as she repeatedly tried to pin him down on several topics. “In the meantime, I’m president—and you’re not.”