President Donald Trump on Wednesday shrugged off Sen. Jeff Flake’s damning allegation that the president’s “reckless, outrageous, and undignified” behavior is a threat to democracy — portraying the outgoing Arizona Republican as essentially a Democrat with “terrible” polls numbers who has “done terribly for the great people of Arizona.”
“Look, he was against me from before he ever knew me,” Trump told reporters who asked about Flake’s Tuesday speech. “He wrote a book about me before I ever met him, before I ever heard his name. His poll numbers in Arizona are so low that he couldn’t win, and I don’t blame him for leaving. I think he did the right thing for himself.”
Trump touched on a variety of topics in the wide-ranging exchange with reporters as he prepared to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House.
The president argued that Republicans are so unified a GOP luncheon this week was essentially “a lovefest,” accused the media of creating a false image of him as uncivil and blasted Democrats for paying for a dossier full of salacious allegations about his ties to Russia.
“Well, I think it’s very sad what they’ve done with this fake dossier,” Trump said. “It was made up, and I understand they paid a tremendous amount of money, and Hillary Clinton always denied it. The Democrats always denied it.”
“But I think it’s a disgrace. It’s just really — it’s a very sad — it’s a very sad commentary on politics in this country.”
Trump also said he did not “specifically” authorize the military mission in Niger that ended in the deaths of four U.S soldiers.
“No, I didn’t. Not specifically. But I have generals that are great generals. These are great fighters,” Trump said “I gave them authority to do what’s right so that we win. That’s the authority they have. I want to win and we’re going to win, and we’re beating ISIS very badly. … My generals and my military, they have decision-making ability.
“As far as the incident that we’re talking about, I’ve been seeing it just like you’ve been seeing it. I’ve been getting reports. They have to meet the enemy and they meet them tough, and that’s what happens.“
Asked about criticism leveled by Flake and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, Trump said “that’s OK.” He pointed to a Senate luncheon he attended Tuesday as a better indicator of the state of the GOP.
“Look, you know they have to do their thing,” Trump said of Flake and Corker. “We have great unity. If you look at what happened yesterday at the meeting, we had, I guess, virtually every senator, including John McCain. We had a great conversation yesterday — John McCain and myself — about the military.
“I think we had a — I called it a lovefest. It was almost a lovefest. Maybe it was a lovefest. But we — standing ovations. There is great unity.”
Trump blamed the media for the current state of U.S. politics.
“Well, I think it’s sad. But I think to a large extent, in all due respect, I think the media causes a lot of it. Fake stories are being reported. A lot of bad things are being reported that aren’t true, and I think to a certain extent, maybe I can blame the media. But politics is a rough business. There’s no question about it.”
As for Flake, Trump said the Arizona conservative had it in for Trump from the start, and is leveling attacks on Trump because “he has nothing else to say.”
“During the campaign, even before the campaign — I mean, he came out with this horrible book, and I said, who is this guy?” Trump said. “The first time I saw him on television, I said, I assume he’s a Democrat. Is he a Democrat? They said, ‘He’s a Republican.’ I said, that’s impossible
“So, look, his poll numbers are terrible. He’s done terribly for the great people of Arizona, a state that likes Donald Trump very much as even you will admit. And he would have never won. In fact, even in the primary, he’s way down in the primary. So he did the smart thing for himself. This way he can get out somewhat gracefully.”
In his stunning speech on the Senate floor, Flake called for a return to civility, blasting the “daily sundering of our country — the personal attacks, the threats against principles, freedoms, and institutions, the flagrant disregard for truth or decency, the reckless provocations, most often for thepettiestand most personal reasons.”
“I have been critical, it not because I relish criticizing the behavior of the president of the United States,” Flake said Tuesday. “If I have been critical, it is because I believe that it is my obligation to do so, as a matter of duty and conscience.”
But on Wednesday, Trump pointed at the media.
“I think the press makes me more uncivil than I am,” Trump said. “You know, people don’t understand — I went to an Ivy League college, I was a nice student, I did very well, I’m a very intelligent person.
“The fact is, I think — I really believe — I think the press creates a different image of Donald Trump than the real person.”