As President Donald Trump’s unfledged administration careens from crisis to crisis like an unsteady toddler running with pilfered scissors, the president returned on Saturday to the part of being president he appears to most enjoy: running for the office he already holds.
“I want to be among my friends and among the people,” Trump told a crowd of 9,000 supporters—and at least a few protesters—at Orlando Melbourne International Airport in Melbourne, Florida, explaining his desire for a “campaign rally” after less than a month in the Oval Office. “I wanna be in a room filled with hardworking American patriots who love their country, who salute their flag, and who pray for a better future!”
Apparently unwilling to put behind him the daily adoration, applause, and affirmation of the presidential campaign that elevated him to the highest elected office in the land, a tieless Trump descended from the sky in Air Force One to a braying crowd of his most diehard fans, to whom he pledged “to speak ... without the filter of the fake news, the dishonest media.” As he lambasted the news media and vowed to “expose them for what they are,” the image-obsessed president could not have found a better bookend to the East Room press conference on Thursday. (The 77-minute slugfest was reportedly chaotic enough to convince a potential national security advisor to say “thanks but no thanks.”) But instead of hundreds of skeptical journalists fact-checking him in real time, Trump was greeted at the stage by thousands of the latter-day descamisados who helped sweep him into power.
“The White House is running so smoothly,” Trump told the crowd, despite what they may have been told by the “dishonest media” and their lying eyes. “So smoothly. And believe me, I and we inherited one big mess. That I can tell you.”
The more drab aspects of governance, meanwhile, were left to other members of the executive branch: thousands of miles away, Vice President Mike Pence was reassuring U.S. allies at the Munich Security Conference that the White House would “hold Russia accountable” for its aggression in eastern Ukraine. Those assurances were perhaps undermined by Trump’s speech in Florida, in which he accused NATO allies of “not paying their bills.”
With one eye perpetually trained on his upset victory in 2016, Trump gave what amounted to a fairly standard general-election stump speech, albeit one with a presidential patina. Complete with appearances by campaign-rally mainstays like Lynette “Diamond” Hardaway and Rochelle “Silk” Richardson—“When I say ‘all aboard,’ you say ‘choo-choo!’”—Trump’s speech, for which his fans had waited in line for up to 13 hours, was studded with standard rhetorical devices (“you look at what’s happening…,” “crooked media…,” “believe me…”) and vague promises to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, take China to task for currency manipulation and to build a 2,000-mile wall along the U.S. southern border.
The crowd roared with every pledge and promise—never mind that Obamacare repeal is mired in congressional infighting, that a recent conversation with President Xi Jinping of China ended without so much as a peep about currency manipulation, or that the Department of Homeland Security’s evaluation of Trump’s proposed border wall pegs the construction cost at more than $10 billion over his estimates.
So enthusiastic were Trump’s throngs that at one point, Secret Service agents scrambled in confusion when one of the president’s most ardent admirers—Gene Huber, who had arrived thirteen hours early to be first in line for the rally—was invited by the president to join him onstage.
“We the people, our movement, is the reason why our president of the United States is standing here in front of us today,” said an emotional Huber. “I knew he was gonna do this for us!”
“I wouldn’t say that Secret Service was thrilled with that, but we know our people,” said Trump afterward, still beaming from Huber’s remarks as the presidential protective detail helped escort him from the podium.
Trump was, in effect, taking a break from taking a break: the president is spending his third working vacation in four weekends at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, 115 miles and $10 billion south of the rally. But as he did during his raucous press conference, the president appeared to be enjoying himself for the first time in weeks.
“We’re united together by history, and by providence,” Trump told the crowd. “We will make America strong again, I promise! We will make America proud again! We will make America safe again! And we will make America great again! Greater than ever before!”