Over the course of 24 hours, President Donald Trump gave one speech in which he tore into the media and members of his own Republican Party, and a second urging national unity and love.
The about-face seemed to reflect an internal debate between calls for moderation and his inclination to let loose.
Trump weighed in Thursday in a pair of tweets — which he had to edit several times for spelling mistakes — that attacked the press and opposition Democrats.
“The Fake News is now complaining about my different types of back to back speeches. Well, there was Afghanistan (somber), the big Rally…….(enthusiastic, dynamic and fun) and the American Legion – V.A. (respectful and strong). Too bad the Dems have no one who can change tones!” he wrote.
On Wednesday, he had spoken in measured tones and stuck to his prepared remarks at an American Legion conference in Nevada. He praised veterans as examples for a nation yearning to set aside its differences.
“We are here to hold you up as an example of strength, courage and resolve that our country will need to overcome the many challenges that we face,” Trump said.
The night before, the president had cut loose in Arizona. Ignoring pleas from aides to stick to the script, he renewed his fight over coverage of his comments about the race-fueled violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The push-and-pull in Trump’s message mirrors the internal dynamics at the White House, where new chief of staff John Kelly has organized and regimented the West Wing staff but has been unable to rein in the president’s tendency to veer off course.
The president’s speech in Reno was full of the calls for patriotism and national healing that would not have seemed out of the ordinary had they come from his predecessors.
But the Phoenix rally was uniquely Trump.
He opened with a talk of unity but quickly erupted in anger, blaming the media for the widespread condemnation of his response to the violence in Charlottesville at a protest organized by white supremacists.
Trump read from his three responses to the racially charged violence, becoming more animated with each one. He drew from his pocket the written statement he’d read the day a woman was killed by a man who had plowed a car through counterprotesters. But he skipped over the part that he’d freelanced at the time: his observation that “many sides” were to blame.
That, as well as his assertion days later that “both sides” were to blame for the violence that led to the death of Heather Heyer and two state troopers, caused Democrats and many Republicans to denounce Trump for not unmistakably calling out white supremacists and other hate groups.
By the time he arrived at the American Legion conference, Trump seemed more congenial. He even thanked Sen. Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican with whom he has openly and repeatedly feuded. He discussed his early efforts to restructure and improve the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Later in the speech, Trump said Americans aren’t defined by the color of their skin, the size of their paycheck or their political party.
Since Kelly took over last month as chief of staff, he has ousted chief strategist Steve Bannon and communications director Anthony Scaramucci. He has limited dissenting voices, restricted access to the president and steered the president toward a desired outcome on key decisions.
He has urged Trump to more closely follow a game plan. But Trump’s broadside against the “damned dishonest” media, which he says is out to get him, was one of several detours he took from remarks prepared for the Phoenix rally. Trump unabashedly acknowledged that his own advisers had urged him to stay on message, and that he simply couldn’t.