If you wanted a taste of President Trump’s 2020 Make America Great Again Again pitch, you got a steaming farrago of it in Grand Rapids on Thursday: boasting, horseshit, and red meat, spiced with outright lies.
His vindication party—his first rally since the conclusion of Robert Mueller’s work—may only be held aloft by the thin reed of the Barr letter and the fallacious idea that he’s been totally, completely, utterly, entirely, and forever vindicated by Mueller and an at least 300-page report none of us have even seen.
“The Russia hoax is finally dead. The collusion delusion is over,” he said, and now “the Democrats have to now decide whether they will continue defrauding the public with ridiculous bullshit and partisan investigations, or whether they will apologize to the American people.”
After claiming “totally exoneration” and “complete vindication,” Trump turned to vindictiveness. He didn’t quite hit “lock her up,” but he made it clear he wasn’t going to claim victory and move on, instead predicting “big problems” to come for the Justice and FBI officials who asked for warrants—approved by judges—to surveil members of his campaign. The guy who refused to release his taxes and openly asked the Russians to hack his opponent wants to pretend that a report that didn’t charge him means he’s now innocent of all wrongdoing.
“I beat my case,” he said. “When you beat something, you beat it.”
Actually, that last quote came from R. Kelly, complaining about facing new charges for the crimes a lot like those he’d already gotten away with.
Back to the president, he reminded us just how thin-skinned and class-conscious he remains:
“I have a better education than them, I’m smarter than them, I went to the best schools they didn’t. Much more beautiful house, much more beautiful apartment. Much more beautiful everything. And I’m president, and they’re not.”
Yes, Don. We know you’re president. Trust us, we noticed.
We know you have a trophy wife, a castle in Florida, and an apartment that looks like it was decorated by a coked-up Liberace with a metric ton of gold leaf during his “Saddam was too restrained” phase. Got it.
As Trump went on delivering wildly exaggerated promises and boasts, short on deliverables as usual, what struck me was its large-scale incoherence.
It felt like serial message-testing, with a red-hatted focus group of Trump base voters under the microscope. Trump was largely on-prompter, but sniffed the wind constantly, searching for the themes that resonated with the blue-collar audience there to cheer him.
He devoted a good block of the night to fan favorites like the wall and the caravans from hell—combining them by vowing to “close the damn border” unless Mexico turns back two groups heading north.
He ripped the decision to drop charges against Jussie Smollett as an “embarrassment to our country.” The crowd rewarded him with lusty boos.
He lied about the state of the auto industry, and trade, and the economy.
In a sign of the new normal for his Party Formerly Known as the GOP, Trump leaned into the podium Thursday night and pursed his tiny mouth to riff on how he was in a war with General Motors so it would do what he wants and build plants and create jobs, or pay the price. Last I checked—and I know I’m old-fashioned on this one—presidents weren’t supposed to pick winners and losers and try to control markets by fiat, let alone boast about it. Hayek is spinning in his grave.
If there was any doubt Trump is sticking to the base-only strategy built by and for Fox News and the Trump fan club (but I repeat myself), Thursday night resolved it. Only Fox carried the rally in its sweaty entirety.
He rewarded them by ripping CNN and MSNBC and “the crooked journalists, the totally dishonest TV pundits. And by the way, they know it’s not true! They just got great ratings.”
He then plugged Fox’s prime-time lineup, boasting that “our friends’” ratings were “through the roof” since the Mueller report was delivered. The crowd obliged with blasts of “lock them up” and “lock her up.”
Trump correctly noted that he “never left center stage” in 2016. He’s not wrong. His antics remain crack to the media that rewarded him with billions of in-kind dollars of exposure. His rallies remain an essential tool in holding the camera on him at all times. The themes are trite, the lies are large, but the picture is there, on every screen.