He reflected on the joy of fighting his opponent. He said that protesters who burned flags must face consequences. He announced a high-level cabinet pick ahead of schedule on national television. He said that foreign leaders marveled at his success.
Donald Trump’s “Thank You” tour, a series of rallies in states he won in the presidential election, began in Cincinnati, Ohio as more of a haphazard airing of grievances than a heartfelt thanksgiving. It was the same type of spectacle that characterized the entirety of his divisive campaign—a winding self-congratulatory speech that focused more on his own past successes than the road ahead.
After appearing at a Carrier plant in Indiana earlier in the day, a kind of warm-up for the night show that was to take place some 120 miles away, the President-elect took the stage at the U.S. Bank Arena in Cincinnati as attendees struggled to arrive on time because Trump’s own Secret Service had shut down travel in the surrounding area.
“I didn’t know what came with this position,” Trump seemed to joked about the traffic his presence had created.
In front of adoring fans once again, Trump couldn’t help but revert to a mode of campaigning, ribbing his opponent Hillary Clinton and even her supporters.
“We did have a lot of fun fighting Hillary didn’t we?” Trump bemusedly said at one point, launching the crowd into chants of “Lock her up,” a common refrain throughout the campaign.
Just over a week ago, both Trump and top adviser Kellyanne Conway said that they were not interested in pursuing charges in the investigation of Clinton’s private email server—which is not up to the discretion of the president in any event. Trump even went so far as to say, “I don’t want to hurt the Clintons, I really don’t,” during an interview with The New York Times.
But what Trump says at any given moment is not dependent on the remarks that have preceded it—and so the man who branded Clinton as a criminal was not shy about returning to his habitual refrain, given the opportunity.
This is the same President-elect who has signaled, first in his election night remarks and later in interviews, that he wants to govern the entire country—one which gave him 2.5 million fewer votes than his opponent. But when a protester briefly interrupted the night’s ceremonies, Trump turned to the crowd and scoffed: “They don’t know that Hillary lost a couple of weeks ago.”
It was déjà vu from his rallies many months ago.
Reveling in the reality-show nature of his cabinet selection process, which has been replete with live newsfeeds from his gold-encrusted Trump Tower and photographed dinners with prospective candidates, Trump gleefully broke the news to the crowd that he would be selecting retired Marine Gen. James Mattis for the position of Secretary of Defense.
“But we’re not announcing until Monday so don’t tell anybody,” Trump as if gossiping to a chatty group of friends in the high-school lunchroom.
His son, Donald Trump Jr., reacted to the news in a similar way, happily tweeting: “Ha @realDonaldTrump on tv in front of thousands ‘we are going to announce Maddog Mattis on Monday… don’t tell anyone keep it in the room’”.
Yet just hours before, when news leaked that Mattis was the official pick, spokesperson Jason Miller said that no decision had yet been made. The campaign has not responded to a request for comment from The Daily Beast about the matter. (Ironically it was reported immediately before the rally that former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told a panel at Harvard University that the problem with the media was that “you guys took everything that Donald Trump said so literally.”) Who knows what is true anymore?
As was the case throughout the campaign, on Thursday night Trump was eager to embrace controversy rather than avoid it—crafting sound bites that would thrill the masses and end up in ceaseless broadcasts on CNN.
He relitigated a firestorm that started two days ago when he tweeted “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag—if they do, there must be consequences—perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!”
“Do you agree with my stance? If people burn the American flag, there should be consequences, right?” Trump said on Thursday, trying to rope news into the headlines once again.
Of course, Trump’s own campaign banked on a lack of consequences on Election Day, no matter how radical his pronouncements or behavior during the 2016 race. That ethos is apparently following him into office as he becomes the next leader of the free world—one who is preoccupied with griping about petty recounts, reveling in his surprising victory and taking aim at each and every person who stood in his way, from the media to protesters to “dumb politicians.”
“The bottom line is we won,” the President-elect said in Cincinnati.
And to Trump, that’s all that matters.