ANALYSIS — First, it was the lights. Next, it was the price of — perceived — bad advice. And Wednesday night, it was the months-old end to his canned campaign stump speech.
President Donald Trump, the New York-based real estate executive whose penchant for delegating has faded since taking office, isn’t exactly hiding his annoyance with his reelection campaign advisers.
Much of the focus of Trump’s Wednesday night campaign tour stop in Greenville, N.C., has been on his sharp words about Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and other freshman House Democrats — as well as his supporters who packed Williams Arena chanting “Send her back!”
“These left-wing ideologues see our nation as a force for evil,” Trump said, referring to Omar and her “squad” colleagues, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Ayanna S. Pressley, D-Mass., and Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich.
“Omar laughed that Americans speak of al Qaeda in a menacing tone,” the president said. “You say al Qaeda makes you proud. Al Qaeda makes you proud. You don’t speak that way about America.”
Trump was referring to comments Omar made in a six-year-old interview with “Belahdan,” a local Minnesota PBS program. The president has zeroed in on part of her comments during that interview during which she said Americans say the names of violent Islamic extremist groups with a different tone than when they talk about their own country or the U.S. Army. Independent fact-checking groups have ruled that Trump is twisting her words.
On Thursday, the president summoned the day’s press pool to the Oval Office for an unplanned media availability during which he disavowed his supporters’ chant. “I was not happy with it,” the president claimed, “I disagree with it.” That followed a series of criticisms of the “send her back” chant from congressional leaders, including the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, Tom Emmer, R-Minn.
But Wednesday’s Pitt County rally also again featured a curious moment. This time, it came near the end of the sometimes-raucous event. The president appeared to be reading a version of the same wrap-up section he has used at other official and campaign events.
It features the typical kind of patriotic lines that many other chiefs executive have used, but with a special Trumpian flair.
“We believe in the American Constitution and we believe in the rule of law. We believe in the dignity of work and in the sanctity of life. We believe that faith and family, not government and bureaucracy are the true American way,” he said. “We trust in fighting for every American mom and dad who wants to protect this land of liberty for their precious children. We have been blessed with the greatest republic on the face of the earth, but it was going in the wrong direction and now we are turning it around.”
From there, what rolls on the TelePrompter usually is a series of single sentences that play off his 2016 campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.” He started reading this section Wednesday night, then launched into a critique of his staff.
“Because together we will make America wealthy again,” he said, before noting this: “Of course we did just hit the highest price in the history of the market.”
“I hate to say. I don’t want to ruin the rhetorical skill, but that is sort of like getting a little obsolete. We will make our nation wealthy again. The fact is we have the strongest stock market in our history,” he said. “I think I’ll have to change it.”
The editor in chief was just getting started, pulling out a rhetorical red pen and marking up the prepared remarks on national television.
“We will make America wealthy again,” he said, looking at the Prompter. “We’re going to have to say, ‘We have made America wealthy again.
“So here’s one: We will make America strong again. No, no. We’re going to have to change this. We have made America strong again,” he said with a slight shake of his head.
Trump had a similar expression on his face on June 18 in Orlando, where he also dinged his campaign team while formally kicking off his reelection campaign at the Amway Arena, home to the NBA’s Orlando Magic.
“So now I say … we have a lot of brilliant talent campaign people. They cost a fortune and they never give me any ideas,” the president said to chuckles from his supporters. That night, he indicated he would personally have to decide between keeping his 2016 slogan or moving to a new one, “Keep America Great.” As he often does at campaign events, he conjured former professional wrestler Scott Hall by conducting an in-arena survey of the crowd by asking them to cheer for the one they prefer.
“I’m only kidding,” Trump joked last month in Florida. (Was he?) There was no such qualifier Wednesday night.
Then there was May 20 in Montoursville, Pa., where he held another early 2020 rally in yet another swing state he won in 2016. He took the stage as the late-spring sun was still high in the sky over the airport hangar that served as his venue.
“You know I thought that was the sun in my eyes. It’s these stupid lights,” a visibly and audibly annoyed commander in chief roared. “These people, I mean what are we — what are they doing? Is there any way they can turn those lights down, folks? Crazy. You’ve got a thing called the sun. We like the sun better than the artificial nonsense.”
White House and campaign spokespersons had not responded to an inquiry about why the president keeps criticizing his staff at rallies. But his own description of his Wednesday schedule suggests he had time to change the stump speech before Air Force One touched down in the Tar Heel State.
“Hey, we have all night. We can have a lot of fun tonight,” he said as the “Make America Great Again”— themed event got started. “I have nothing to do but make our country great again.”