HOWARD KURTZ: How Trump answered, deflected or dodged my questions at Mar-a-Lago

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I showed up armed with a handful of blue cards, and I still haven't answered half the questions, but Donald Trump made a lot of noise in our interview at Mar-a-Lago.

What is telling is the way he chose to answer the most sensitive questions, or deflect them, and the way different media outlets chose to frame them.

Some, like the New York Times, ABC and The Hill, have played fair. Other ops, many of them cherry-picked left-wing quotes to make Trump look as horrible as possible, while ignoring the seemingly reasonable things he said.

A classic example is when I asked the former president about the murder of Alexei Navalny in a Siberian prison camp. I thought he could dodge because of his friendly relationship with Vladimir Putin.

But I asked him bluntly: is the Russian dictator responsible for the death of the opposition leader?


Trump sneakers

Republican presidential candidate and former President Donald Trump takes the stage to introduce a new line of signature shoes at Sneaker Con at the Philadelphia Convention Center on February 17 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“Maybe,” Trump said. “I mean, maybe, I could say probably. I don't know. He's a young man, so statistically he would have been alive for a long time… Certainly, it would seem like something very serious.”

Keep in mind that Trump never even mentioned Putin in the same paragraph as Navalny, and now he says “probably” responsible. Of course, Trump can't prove it, and neither can I.

Here are some titles:

“Trump could not bring himself to condemn Putin for the death of Alexei Navalny.”

“Trump gives incredibly awkward response to new question about Putin.”

“Trump: 'I don't know' if Putin was responsible for Navalny's death.”

You got the idea.

Which brings us to Trump's rhetoric. I asked him why he used words like “vermin” and “blood poisoning” to describe illegal migrants – especially since the press claims that such terms were used by Hitler and Mussolini.

Trump said he didn't know and then repeated “our country is being poisoned,” prompting a flurry of headlines claiming he had doubled down on such harmful expressions.

Trump: Biden is 'bad for Israel'

I guess you could say that – and I'm not letting him get away with it – but the most telling part of his response came next.

I asked the 45th president if he used “exaggerated” and “inflammatory” language to direct the media debate, meaning that focusing on his words would cause the media to spend days on his turf, on his favorite topic, in debates over whether he was or wasn't. went too far. And Trump didn't deny it, saying he wouldn't limit himself to “politically correct” verbiage.

“It also gets people thinking about some very important questions,” he said. “If you don’t use certain rhetoric, if you don’t use certain words that maybe aren’t very nice, nothing will happen.” My theory, based on decades of observation, was correct.

He then looked at migrants coming from insane asylums and how crime will double – something that has never been demonstrated on a large scale.

Migrants online

Migrants wait in line at a remote U.S. Border Patrol processing center after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border Dec. 7, 2023, in Lukeville, Arizona. (John Moore/Getty Images)

The same thing happened with NATO, when Trump caused a global outcry by declaring that he would encourage the Russians to “do whatever they want” to NATO countries that are not paying their fair share defense costs.

That sounds like someone taking a pro-Putin stance, I said.

“That sounds like someone who wants people to pay money,” Trump said. In other words, it was a negotiating tactic.

Half an hour before going on air, the media was flooded with headlines about Trump saying there would be a “bloodbath” if he lost the election. So I watched this part of his speech at a rally in Ohio the night before.

There have been times when Trump has used loaded words to signal the possibility of political violence. It wasn't one of them.


Trump was talking about Chinese cars and their impact on the American auto industry. He then said that if he was not elected, it would be a bloodbath – in terms of the impact on jobs. He then returned to talking about electric vehicles and competition in the industry.

Today, some experts say that the simple use of the word bloodshed was like a bat signal, telling his followers to prepare for violence. After all, he was so Machiavellian that he added: “It will be the least we can do.” But like I said, too many media outlets were so enamored with the bloodbath story that they took it out of context.

Trump also said at the rally that some migrants were “animals” and “not people.” This is unacceptable language, in my opinion, but remember what he said about the inflammatory comments that drive the media debate. I wanted to decipher his approach for the viewers.

Trump also made news on abortion. I asked him about a Times article that said he was discussing a national ban after 16 weeks of pregnancy with advisers — unaware that his campaign had dismissed it as fake news — and I thought that he would reject the article.

Migrants crossing the Rio Grande at the southern border

Migrants who crossed the Rio Grande and entered the United States from Mexico wait in line to be processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection September 23, 2023, in Eagle Pass, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay, file)

No. He essentially confirmed the 16-week story – saying he would make a decision “very soon,” which would obviously be within that range – which had previously been attributed to anonymous sources. He said, despite my skepticism, that he wanted to “make both parties happy.”

When Republicans tackle abortion in the post-Roe world, Trump said, “you have to go with your heart. But beyond that, you also have to get elected.” He said objecting to the three exceptions — rape, incest and life of the mother — caused Pennsylvania Republican Doug Mastriano to lose the gubernatorial race.

Then Trump went after Democrats and late-term abortions – which, as I said during one of many fact-checks, are extremely rare.

He's also made news on topics ranging from Israel to TikTok.

The first time I met Donald Trump was in 1987, in New York, while he was promoting his first book “The Art of the Deal.”

And here is what he said to me, spontaneously:

“When I go to New Hampshire – I'm not running for president, by the way – I have the best crowd, the best of everything in terms of hospitality. The politicians go up and have a moderate audience. I go up and “They are scalping tickets. Did you hear that? They are scalping tickets. For what ? Because people don't want to get ripped off, and this country is getting ripped off. I think if I ran, I would win.”


I admit that I did not then imagine Trump, still a largely local real estate specialist, in the White House, but now he will take the head of the Republican group for the third time in a row.


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