What We Learned From Trump’s Speech in Phoenix Last Night

I watched Trump’s speech in Phoenix last night, even though I’ve generally stopped doing that because it’s not good for my health. I can always get pretty good roundups of what happened by reading and watching clips the next day.

But this one was important because of what led up to it. The president had a miserable week due to his reaction to the events in Charlottesville. Steve Bannon was ousted from the White House, and the president’s new handlers were able to get Trump to stay on script during a speech about Afghanistan.

I harbor no illusions that Trump will ever “pivot” to being more presidential. But I did wonder whether Chief of Staff Kelly and his crew would be able to contain Trump’s rages for more than a day or two. If they had been able to do that, pundits all over the press would be heralding a new day, and the way that the events in Charlottesville brought this presidency into focus would be forgotten.

Obviously that didn’t happen. We didn’t see anything different from Trump than we’ve witnessed many times over the last year and a half. Some of the content made news, like the fact that he might pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio, suggested that he will probably pull out of NAFTA, threatened to shut down the government over funding for his border wall, and went after Arizona’s two Republican senators without mentioning their names. But this was classic Donald Trump. He lied a lot, painted the media as the enemy, and embraced white supremacist talking points—all after making a bogus case for unity.

In my mind, I imagined that the president’s handlers made a deal with him: if he stuck to the script on Afghanistan, they would let him go rogue in Phoenix. That might be nothing more than a fantasy, but I can’t imagine that, given how these campaign-style rallies tend to go, Kelly didn’t know exactly what would happen when you put the president in front of a crowd like that.

What we learned last night doesn’t change what we already knew about Trump. It simply affirms that he is so unhinged that there is no possibility that even the military generals will be able to contain him in public (apparently they all see this quite regularly in private). That cements, rather than shifts, the narrative being developed following the president’s reaction to Charlottesville.

This also won’t change how Trump’s base of supporters feel about him. Take a look at what one of his biggest cheerleaders in the media was tweeting about this speech in real time.

Yes, that speaks volumes about the way Ingraham (and probably a lot of other Trump supporters) view our political process, and it’s not good. They seem to feed off of the raging red meat that is based on a toxic mix of lies and hatred…and this president will continue to give it to them.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.