What a Difference a Day Makes
RENO, Nev. (AP) — A day after a searing speech tearing into the media and members of his own political party, President Donald Trump returned to calls for unity and love as he spoke to veterans Wednesday at an American Legion conference.
“We are here to hold you up as an example of strength, courage and resolve that our country will need to overcome the many challenges that we face,” Trump told the veterans, speaking in measured tones and adhering to his prepared remarks. He said all Americans must learn the same work ethic, patriotism and devotion as veterans.
The messaging zig-zag appears to reflect the president’s real-time internal debate between calls for moderation and his inclination to let loose. Trump had opened his Tuesday rally in Phoenix much the same way — but quickly erupted in anger, blaming the media for the widespread condemnation of his response to violence at a Charlottesville, Virginia, protest organized by white supremacists.
At the Phoenix rally, he read from his three responses to the racially charged violence, becoming more animated with each one. He withdrew from his suit pocket the written statement he’d read the day a woman was killed by a man who’d plowed a car through counter-protesters, but he skipped over the trouble-causing part that he’d freelanced at the time: his observation that “many sides” were to blame.
That, as well as his reiteration days later that “both sides” were to blame for the violence that led to the death of Heather Heyer and two state troopers, led Democrats and many Republicans to denounce Trump for not unmistakably calling out white supremacists and other hate groups.
The president awoke Wednesday still thinking about the rally, as evidenced by his Twitter account. “Last night in Phoenix I read the things from my statements on Charlottesville that the Fake News Media didn’t cover fairly,” he wrote. “People got it!”
By the time he arrived at the American Legion conference, Trump seemed more congenial. He even thanked Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican with whom he has openly and repeatedly feuded. He discussed his early efforts to restructure and improve the Veterans Administration.
Later in the speech, Trump said Americans aren’t defined by the color of their skin, the size of their paycheck or their political party.
“Our hearts beat for America. Our souls fill with pride every time we hear the national anthem,” Trump said. “This is the spirit we need to overcome our challenges.”
When Medal of Honor recipient Donald Ballard joined the president on stage and offered praise for Trump, saying the president would “drain the swamp” of Washington, Trump smiled and tipped his hand that he was indeed being restrained.
“That was very risky,” Trump told the veteran. “I didn’t know what was going to happen.”
But Trump wasn’t able to stick to his unity theme Tuesday night. His broadside against the media, and the “fake news” that he says is out to get him, was one of several detours he took from remarks prepared for the Phoenix rally. Trump unabashedly acknowledged that his own advisers had urged him to stay on message, and that he simply could not.