What was he thinking? Was he thinking? In a normal politician, the moment might have been what used to be politely called a “gaffe,” and more accurately called a career-ending self-own. With Trump, though, it’s better to understand it as the perfect melding of all the preoccupations and instincts and political acumen that got him where he is. If he’d held back, it might have been more prudent, but it would have been positively un-Trumpian.
First off, of course, the question was about Russia—Trump’s great bugbear. The whole subject of Russian interference grates on an easily bruised ego, intensifying his insecurities about his squeaker victory over Clinton. He’ll be relitigating the Mueller investigation all the way through November 2020.
Second, the issue remains a terrific media draw for Trump. Trump’s responses weren’t a surprise to anyone who’s been following his presidency, but they slurped up a day’s worth of TV chyrons, keeping him the center of attention at a moment when people might be focusing on his thin claims of a deal with Mexico, or his grim 2020 poll numbers. Instead, they’re focused on a sexy but meaningless round of new pro-and-con shouting about the president himself.