NEW YORK CITY — Backed into a corner, US president Donald Trump returned late this week to what he knows best: campaigning and taking his message directly to the public.
Three moves this week signalled the president’s return to his campaign roots: An impromptu Thursday press conference, a large event at a South Carolina Boeing facility Friday, and an airport hangar rally in Florida on Saturday that was a trademark of his quest for the White House.
The moves came as the president was in the midst of one of the most tumultuous weeks — and opening months — in presidential history. His fourth week in office was defined by high-stakes legal battles, open-air internal strife, and the resignation of the national security adviser while questions swirled about the president’s ties to Russia.
His approval ratings hit record lows for a presidency so young.
He figured the best way to reset the narrative was to get back to what he was comfortable doing — direct confrontations with the news media, grandiose promises to large groups of workers, and speaking to a massive crowd hanging on his every word.
It began Thursday, when Trump walked into the Oval Office and demanded to face the media. A noon press conference was called, the original intention of which was to announce his new choice to lead the Labour Department. That was a necessity after his original nominee, Andrew Puzder, withdrew after a barrage of criticism stemming from past controversies and statements.
But Trump’s intentions came in the press conference’s final 70-plus minutes during which he wasn’t announcing his potential new Cabinet member. Spending most of the news conference lambasting the press, he attempted to crush the Russia-related stories creating a growing cloud over his presidency and downplay stories of internal discord in his administration.
It was reminiscent of his style during his more than year-long campaign for the presidency, which was filled with more than a few confrontational back-and-forths with the entirety of the political press corps.
“Unfortunately, much of the media in Washington, DC, along with New York, Los Angeles in particular, speaks not for the people, but for the special interests and for those profiting off a very, very obviously broken system,” Trump said early in an especially long opening statement. “The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice. We have to talk to find out what’s going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.”
Pointing directly at CNN, he said the network covered him with “hatred” and that anchor Don Lemon — not among the attendees at the press conference — spewed “venom” when discussing the president. In an exchange with CNN’s Jim Acosta, Trump said he no longer called the network “fake news” — instead calling it “very fake news.”
Acosta and others laughed.
Trump, admittedly, was having a blast.
“I’m actually having a very good time, OK?” he said. “But they will take this news conference — don’t forget, that’s the way I won. Remember, I used to give you a news conference every time I made a speech, which was like every day. OK? … No, that’s how I won. I won with news conferences and probably speeches. I certainly didn’t win by people listening to you people. That’s for sure. But I’m having a good time.”
As Matt Mackowiak, the Republican strategist who is president of the Potomac Strategy Group, told Business Insider following the event, the press conference demonstrated that Trump, in the face of a slew of negative reporting on the number of problems his administration is facing, is still confident.
“He really kind of demonstrated just a basic sense of confidence that I think will buck up Republicans and will buck up his supporters after what’s really been sort of a rocky 10 days,” he said.
Trump moved on to North Charleston, South Carolina, on Friday to speak to Boeing employees in front of the company’s newest 787 Dreamliner. The setting was the quintessential backdrop for a Trump speech, which so many times had been accompanied by the Manhattan billionaire’s aeroplane parked in the background.
In classic Trump fashion, he began his speech by discussing his Republican primary victory in South Carolina from nearly one full year ago.
“Remember we came down — all together, we came down, and this was going to be a place that was tough to win, and we won in a landslide,” he said. “This was a good one. So I want to thank the people of South Carolina and your governor — tremendous guy.”
He said the purpose of the trip to South Carolina was “to celebrate jobs.”
“And jobs is one of the primary reasons I’m standing here today as your president, and I will never, ever disappoint you,” he said. “Believe me. I will not disappoint you.”
At times, the audience chanted, “USA! USA! USA!” just as audiences had at countless Trump rallies that preceded it.
“America is going to start winning again — winning like never, ever before,” he promised. “We are not going to let our country be taken advantage of anymore in any way, shape or form. … “You’ve heard me say it before, and I will say it again: From now on, it’s going to be America first.”
Ahead of his Saturday rally at a Florida airport — being called a campaign event by his administration — Trump’s campaign team blasted out an email to supporters asking them to take a “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey,” asking questions such as:
“Do you believe that the media has been far too quick to spread false stories about our movement?”
“Do you believe that political correctness has created biased news coverage on both illegal immigration and radical Islamic terrorism?”
“Do you believe that the media unfairly reported on President Trump’s executive order temporarily restricting people entering our country from nations compromised by radical Islamic terrorism?”
As Trump spent the hours after his South Carolina event crafting a tweet to slam the media as “the enemy of the American people,” the subject line on this email to supporters, addressed from Trump, was “I can’t do it alone.”
It was a far cry from his message of “I alone can fix it” from during the campaign. Although Trump, in almost all certainty, had nothing to do with the crafting of that email, it did provide a window into the president’s thinking.
His antidote to a rocky first month in office? An escalation of his battle with the press and exposure to his unabashed supporters.
He ended Friday night with another tweet about the next day: “Looking forward to the Florida rally tomorrow. Big crowd expected!”
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