Though President-elect Donald Trump's policy positions have been difficult to pin down throughout the campaign and even now, one thing has become abundantly clear: Trump just wants to be loved.
"I'm going to get you to write some good stuff about me," Trump told Bruni as the two men shook hands.
Trump opened the conversation with The Times by discussing his "tremendous respect" for the paper, after dubbing it the "failing" New York Times on Twitter just hours before the meeting.
Bruni wasn't fooled by the compliment.
"He's saying what this audience wants to hear," Bruni told MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle on Wednesday morning. "One of the constants in Trump's political life is his zeal for admiration."
Later in the Times conversation, Trump made a statement that might lead one to infer that Trump's overarching desire is to be loved by everyone, both liberal and conservative:
"It would be, to me, a great achievement if I could come back here in a year or two years and say — and have a lot of the folks here say, 'You've done a great job.' And I don't mean just a conservative job, 'cause I'm not talking conservative. I mean just, we've done a good job."
Trump walked back many of the most extreme claims he made on the campaign trail in the interview, including jailing his opponent, Hillary Clinton, and told reporters that he has an "open mind," on climate change.
He also emphatically praised President Obama (who he originally questioned as being born outside of the US), expressed skepticism about waterboarding suspected terrorists, and said that he'd "love" to be the one to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
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"You find him talking a much different game with The New York Times than you did on the stump," Bruni told Ruhle. "This was a much more moderate, reasonable Donald Trump."
Here's Bruni describing Trump's change in tone:
"For Trump, bragging is like breathing: continuous, spontaneous. He wants nothing more than for his audience to be impressed. And when his audience is a group of people, like us, who haven't clapped the way he'd like?
He sands down his edges. Modulates his voice. Bends."
In the Times interview, Trump also discussed how "it's very important," that his presidency "brings the country together." His motivation for doing so is revealing: because he got booed in public after he "started thinking about politics."
"I've never had a person boo me, and all of a sudden people are booing me... So it's something that I had never experienced before."
Trump is a master at playing to his audience, but that's a cause for deeper concern, according to Bruni.
"There was a lesson here about his desire to be approved of and his hunger to be loved," Bruni wrote. "There was another about the shockingly unformed, pliable nature of the clay that is our 70-year-old president-elect... the most influential voice in Trumplandia is the last one he happened to listen to."