Melbourne, United States, Feb 19 – President Donald Trump turned back the clock with a bold and aggressive Florida speech straight out of his 2016 campaign playbook, enthralling fans while insisting all is well in the White House despite weeks of turbulence.
He also took aim at his favorite foil, the “dishonest” news media that he said has become “part of the corrupt system.”
At the end of a stormy first month in office, the billionaire took the power of the presidency on the road, revisiting the style and substance of the campaign trail.
After stepping down from Air Force One to a deafening cheer, he was drawn into the collective bosom of several thousand of his dearest followers — mostly white, mostly male middle-class Americans who feel they have been left behind by the country’s shifting economy.
“I’m here because I want to be among my friends and among the people,” he said.
Trump employed a loud and muscular delivery — one which won over millions of voters on the campaign trail last year — to assure Americans he is fulfilling promises to shrink government, rebuild the military, restrict immigration, and tear up health care reforms enacted by predecessor Barack Obama.
“This will be change for the ages,” the president said at the event in Melbourne, a sun-bleached city on Florida’s Space Coast.
But Trump was completing his first month in office under a cloud in Washington, where lawmakers pledged to further investigate his possible pre-election ties to Russia, his national security advisor was forced to resign in disgrace, and a cabinet nominee withdrew amid controversy.
“The White House is running so smoothly, so smoothly,” Trump stressed, before going on an extended rant about the US media.
“I also want to speak to you without the filter of the fake news,” Trump said.
“They’ve become a big part of the problem. They are part of the corrupt system,” he said, continuing the open warfare with the media that has marked his young presidency.
– First Lady’s prayer –
Aside from the fact that Trump is now leader of the free world, the event was eerily similar in style to his campaign — from the layout, to the recorded music, to the president’s largely impromptu delivery.
About the only thing missing was attacks on his 2016 Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.
Trump acknowledged that he is always in campaign mode.
“Life is a campaign,” he told reporters on Air Force One ahead of the rally. “To make America great again is absolutely a campaign. It’s not easy, especially when we’re also fighting the press.”
During his speech, Trump reiterated his pledge to crack down on terrorism, saying he has “ordered decisive action to keep radical Islamic terrorists the hell out of our country.”
And he said his administration would submit “in a couple of weeks” a plan to repeal and replace “the disaster known as Obamacare.”
Republican leaders in Congress have said they will unveil their health care plans in the coming weeks as well.
Meanwhile, First Lady Melania Trump, who is usually soft-spoken, broke with form by reciting the Lord’s Prayer to begin the event, then issuing a scathing rebuke of her husband’s enemies and her critics.
“I will always stay true to myself and be truthful to you, no matter what the opposition is saying about me,” she said.
At one point, the president broke security protocol by inviting a supporter to hop a barrier and join him onstage.
“Mr President, thank you, sir,” said Gene Huber, a car salesman from West Palm Beach who said he arrived at 4 am to be first in line for the event.
“This is a world leader now who’s taking control,” Huber told AFP earlier. “No jitters at all.”
– ‘Total garbage’ –
The commander-in-chief was clearly seeking to reconnect with his tribe in a reassuring environment.
Tensions have soared in recent days as lawmakers pressed for more information about the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia. On Thursday, Trump held a news conference that was startling in its vitriol against the media.
He later took to Twitter to call the media the “enemy of the American People.”
White House chief of staff Reince Priebus warned the media not to brush off Trump’s denunciation.
“I think you should take it seriously,” Priebus told CBS in an interview Saturday, which will air in full on Sunday.
“I think that the problem we’ve got is that we’re talking about bogus stories like the one in the New York Times, that we’ve had constant contact with Russian officials. The next day, the Wall Street Journal had a story that the intel community was not giving the president a full intelligence briefing. Both stories grossly inaccurate, overstated, overblown, and it’s total garbage.”
Robert Sponsler, 64, a retired railroad worker from Jacksonville who was attending the rally, turned his nose up at the stew in the capital.
“We don’t care,” he said of the various controversies. “He don’t owe nobody nothing. I’m with him 100 percent.”