President Donald Trump found in Arizona what he is denied in Washington — an adoring crowd that encourages his bluster.
And that’s exactly what he wanted.
In a speech tailor-made for his voting base, Trump hit every theme that drove him to the White House — immigration and border control, terrorism, health care, jobs and rage against the media. He warned he might pull out of NAFTA and shut down the government over the wall he promised voters he would build along the southern border. He signaled a pardon might be in the works for a convicted hero of the immigration hardliner community.
And he sent an overt political warning to a Republican Congress that has failed to deliver on almost all of the president’s legislative goals: you owe the voters some progress.
“I have a message for Congress tonight,” Trump said to a roaring crowd. “Your job is to represent American families, American people, American workers. That’s your job.”
At the start of the speech, Trump looked like he wanted to strike a note of American unity, continuing his attempts to clean up the mess he created when he cast partial blame for a deadly neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Va., onto people protesting white supremacy. “Loyalty to our nation requires loyalty to each other,” he said as he opened. “A wound inflicted upon one member of our community is a wound inflicted upon us all.”
But then, he attempted to rewrite the record, repeating a modified version of his original post-Charlottesville statement that omitted the words that caused such widespread outrage; Trump originally said “many sides” were to blame.
It was a dramatic turn back to hard-edged campaign politics after a much hailed, thoughtful speech on Monday about extending the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan. But after seven months of a chaotic presidency, Tuesday’s swing was no surprise to Republican insiders as Trump delivered a not-subtle reminder of the strength of his voting base.
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Standing in front of a diverse crowd that included African-American, Asian and Latino supporters, Trump warmed up the crowd by demonizing the media before digging into his bread-and-butter issues.
“You need to represent them on the border, on taxes, on health care,” Trump scolded lawmakers, noting the effort to repeal and replace Obamacare failed to advance because of one vote.
Trump did not mention by name that it was Arizona Sen. John McCain who was the holdout Republican. He did everything but mention that name to McCain’s home crowd.
“They said, ‘please Mr. President, don’t mention any names.’ So I won’t,” he said. “Very presidential, isn’t it.”
“One vote!” he shouted.
Then he turned to Arizona’s other senator, another Republican, Jeff Flake. Flake has been one of Trump’s most vocal critics, and the president has already thrown support to Flake’s primary challenger, an affront to GOP Senate leadership.
But again, he didn’t mention Flake by name.
He had the entire crowd passionately backing him every step of the way, chanting on cue and cheering to drown out a protester.
While he resurfaced his campaign’s biggest applause lines, he avoided one controversy — promising that Mexico will pay for a border wall. It was one of his most popular promises during the campaign and since during such rallies, but even he has acknowledged it will never happen.
Trump signaled that he would pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio, famous for dressing his inmates in old-fashioned striped prison jumpsuits and pink underwear, who was convicted of criminal contempt for failing to adhere to a judge’s order to stop targeting Latino drivers.
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“I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy,” Trump said.
Outside, a line of police tossed cans of tear gas to disperse protesters.