President Donald Trump assured reporters as he left the White House Friday morning for Paris he was “thinking about the world.” Only, he wasn’t.
The president and first lady Melania Trump boarded Marine One just before 9:30 a.m. and lifted off to link up with Air Force One a few minutes later. By 10 a.m., the executive jet was wheels up for a diplomatic trip to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.
Before the roughly six-hour flight to Paris, any global focus of the diplomat in chief appeared to have been discarded on the South Lawn, where he took a list of questions from reporters on his way out.
“I haven’t ruled out anything. I haven’t even thought about it,” he said when asked if he intends to sit down with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. “I'm thinking about the world. Right now, I'm thinking about the world. I’m not thinking about sit-downs or not sit-downs. There was no collusion. It’s a whole hoax.”
“This was a thing set up by the Democrats, just like they set up other things. When you look at what’s going on Florida, when you look at what’s going on in lots of different locations,” the president continued, apparently referring to the contested Sunshine State Senate race where Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson trails GOP Gov. Rick Scott with a recount looming.
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Before Air Force One had made much progress crossing the Atlantic, Trump’s worldly thoughts had given way to an hourslong trans-Atlantic Twitter rant about exclusively domestic topics, including his political foes. Other world leaders he will see in Paris, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, were not mentioned.
He started with the too-close-to-call Georgia governor’s race, where GOP Secretary of State Brian Kemp is leading Democrat Stacey Abrams by under 2 points. Kemp has declared victory, though The Associated Press has not yet called the race.
The president at 10:55 a.m. wrote that Kemp “won,” declaring, “It is time to move on!” Abrams’ campaign, however, has other plans.
.@BrianKempGA ran a great race in Georgia – he won. It is time to move on!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2018
Three minutes later, the tweeter in chief expressed doubts about the vote counts in both Southern states. “You mean they are just now finding votes in Florida and Georgia – but the Election was on Tuesday” he wrote, predicting Democrats would blame both situations on Russian interference and “demand an immediate apology from President Putin!”
About an hour later, he was back at it, warning Democrats in Florida that he would be sending “much better lawyers” to oversee the recount. He accused them of “FRAUD!” and blasted what he called “their best Election stealing lawyer, Marc Elias.”
You mean they are just now finding votes in Florida and Georgia – but the Election was on Tuesday? Let’s blame the Russians and demand an immediate apology from President Putin!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2018
As soon as Democrats sent their best Election stealing lawyer, Marc Elias, to Broward County they miraculously started finding Democrat votes. Don’t worry, Florida - I am sending much better lawyers to expose the FRAUD!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2018
Notably, Fox News ran several segments discussing both contested races around the time of Trump’s tweets. Journalists who travel with the president on Air Force One have regularly noted that its television monitors, including one in Trump’s private office, are tuned to that network. And Trump often comments on Fox News shows that he watches regularly.
At his final midterms rally in Missouri late Monday night, Trump did not hide his affection for Fox News and its on-air personalities. He called both Sean Hannity and Jeanine Pirro onstage to make remarks.
“Do we love Sean, by the way? … There is nobody like this man,” Trump told his supporters about the longtime host. “Although he’s tough, he’s tough. But, boy, I’ll tell you what, when he’s on your side, there’s nobody you want better.” Of Pirro, he said: “Jeanine has been a great, great friend to all of us. You know that.”
As Air Force One got closer to Europe, the passenger in chief would return to the Florida race, which he likely feels invested in after several trips to stump for and praise Scott. But he took a break to attack outgoing GOP Sen. Jeff Flake, accusing the Arizona Republican of putting his own possible presidential ambitions ahead of actually protecting the Mueller investigation. He even hit him with one of his signature derisive nicknames: “Flake(y).”
Jeff Flake(y) doesn’t want to protect the Non-Senate confirmed Special Counsel, he wants to protect his future after being unelectable in Arizona for the “crime” of doing a terrible job! A weak and ineffective guy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2018
The GOP president, whose base is mostly white and conservative and who is hammered regularly by critics for spouting racial “dog whistles,” mused just after 12:30 p.m. Eastern time about vote-counting issues in Florida’s Broward County. Never reluctant to espouse conspiracy theories, Trump wrote, “How come they never find Republican votes?” — referring to what he called the “Broward Effect.”
Rick Scott was up by 50,000+ votes on Election Day, now they “found” many votes and he is only up 15,000 votes. “The Broward Effect.” How come they never find Republican votes?— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2018
To find one answer, Trump could have had his staff seek out U.S. Census Bureau and Florida Department of State data about Broward’s demographics. For instance, the bureau found the county’s population is 64 percent white — but African-Americans and Latinos combine for 60 percent of residents. Both those groups largely vote Democratic. And the state office’s website says Broward has 249,822 registered Republicans and 586,833 registered Democrats.
By 1:20 p.m., Trump was comparing Florida’s governor race — where Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum initially conceded to former GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis before the margin became small enough to trigger a recount — to his 2016 presidential win in the state.
He accused, without providing evidence, Broward officials of being “ready to do a ‘number’ on him only to be foiled when he clinched that state before they — allegedly — could. Broward County officials are sharply rejecting any notion of fraud or other shenanigans.
Mayor Gillum conceded on Election Day and now Broward County has put him “back into play.” Bill Nelson conceded Election - now he’s back in play!? This is an embarrassment to our Country and to Democracy!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2018
In the 2016 Election I was winning by so much in Florida that Broward County, which was very late with vote tabulation and probably getting ready to do a “number,” couldn’t do it because not enough people live in Broward for them to falsify a victory!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2018
About 20 minutes later, Trump thanked a former campaign-trail foe, Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio, for “helping to expose the potential corruption” and “Election Theft.” He ended that one with a warning to the state’s Democratic officials: “The WORLD is now watching closely!”
Thank you @marcorubio for helping to expose the potential corruption going on with respect to Election Theft in Broward and Palm Beach Counties. The WORLD is now watching closely!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 9, 2018
It took nearly four hours, but his focus — at least for the time it took to fire off one tweet — was back on the world.
Barbara Perry of the University of Virginia’s Miller Center recently said that Trump’s use of his preferred social media platform — despite what one might think of the content of his posts — are as effective as radio and television were for some American political giants.
“Ronald Reagan, John F. Kennedy and FDR were all presidents who were masters of the media of their day,” she said. “But Trump is the master with his Twitter and the bullying style and just precipitating crises du jour it seems like every day. … He sets the narrative, the agenda every single day.”