Man, that was a long wait.
With his usual heavy dose of hammy showmanship, ex-reality TV star Donald J. Trump, more than half an hour into his packed Orlando rally, launched the already previewed “co-slogan” for his second election campaign: “Keep America Great.”
Then took another 35-plus minutes to provide a tantalizingly small taste of what that means.
Instead, for the three-score and six minutes bookending the slogan’s unveiling, the audience that crammed the Amway Center was treated, if that’s the right word, to yet another reprise of The Donald’s Greatest Hits. And all too many once again, to mix multiple metaphors, fell cringeworthily below the belt or outside the lines.
After all, is it really necessary to open a re-election campaign with another snarky attack on the assembled media: that’s a lot of fake news back there?”
And yes. We all know that the Mueller probe came up empty and that Democrats are looking for a “do-over.” But was it really the “greatest witch hunt in political history?” (Worse than Joe McCarthy?) And is a campaign speech really the time or place to dwell on it?
How about the never-ending obsession with “Crooked Hillary,” the “free pass” she and her aides got, her “very expensive” “acid wash” job on her emails, and how she allegedly “turned the State Department into a pay-for-play cash machine?” Mr. President, you can be sure of one thing: Madame Secretary won’t be your 2020 opponent. Time to retire “lock her up.”
We’re all used to this President entitling himself to his own facts. But has Trump really accomplished more than any Chief Executive in the first two and a half years of a presidency? More than, say, FDR or LBJ?
Has “nobody ever been tougher on Russia?” Not The Gipper?
Are our air and water truly “the cleanest they have ever been, by far?” Going back to, say, colonial times?
There’s no problem with the standard and highly justifiable rundown of the Administration’s accomplishments. With an otherwise solid theme of how the 2016 election had transferred power back to the people. Or even with a tough but fair attack on the desire for “domination and control” and outright radicalism that has overtaken his opposition.
But this time, for sure, a trio of New York Times reporters got their description of the first six-sevenths of the President’s speech right: an unfortunate “torrent of attacks, falsehoods, exaggerations and resentments.”
A good re-election speech is equal parts review of the incoming situation, recitation of accomplishments, characterization of your opponent – and forward-looking vision. Getting to that future-facing platform in minute 66 of a 77-minute address ain’t gonna get you there, by a long shot.
Ultimately the President did lay out some hopeful and intriguing ideas. Continuing to unleash “the power of American enterprise so that every American can know the dignity of work and the pride of a paycheck.” Creating a “safe, modern and lawful system of immigration” that “strengthens our country, upholds our values, and protects our way of life.”
Trade deals “that ensure more products are properly stamped with the words, ‘Made in the USA.’” “A great health care system based on honesty, transparency, more options and far lower costs for much better care.” “School choice to millions of underserved children who are trapped in failing schools.” “Expand opportunity zones so that no community is ever left behind.” “Defend privacy, free speech, religious liberty and the right to keep and bear arms.” “Push forward with new medical frontiers,” including cures for cancer and AIDS.
But then it was away from specifics and off to flag-waving cultural wedge issues: “the American Constitution and the rule of law,” “the dignity of work,” and “the sanctity of life.” “Faith and family. Teaching children to “love our country, honor our history and always respect our great American flag.” And “living by our great American motto: in God We Trust.”
In another words, in a speech spanning the better part of two hours of cable TV, basically two paragraphs worth of second-Administration agenda with one paragraph rehashing first-Administration guiding principles.
Certainly, the President has gotten this far by breaking the rules and not just defying but remaking political convention. He has made an art of the rally format and a slashing and combative style. It’s hard to count how often the whole world has agreed that this time, Donald Trump has gone too far.
But one suspects that beyond his base, his act may be wearing thin – and his accomplishments may already be “priced in.” That independents may desire to see less flesh flayed and more flesh on the bones of a skeleton second-term plan. And that if the President doesn’t define what “Keep America Great” really means, his Democratic opponents will be more than happy to do it for him.
In offering so little, and way too late, regarding what four more years will be all about, the President has undoubtedly left many wanting more. Voters who endured his 66 often-painful opening minutes may not be willing to wait till November 3, 2020 to hear the rest.