President-elect Donald Trump kicked off his 'thank you' tour with Mike Pence on Thursday
The behavioral constraints that normally apply to presidents are not going to cramp his style
Donald Trump delivered an unmistakable message Thursday in his first big speech since election night – the unconventional, impulsive and unscripted person who won a stunning victory is the one that America will get as its President.
The President-elect emerged from three weeks closeted in Trump Tower and his private resorts where he is building his Cabinet, for a full bore, campaign style rally, before a fired up and adoring crowd on the first leg of a pre-inauguration “thank-you” tour through key battleground states with Vice President-elect Mike Pence.
Anyone who thought that Trump would preview a new, soberer, presidential version of himself just 50 days before he takes the oath of office was mistaken.
“The bottom line is we won!” a triumphant Trump declared to a rowdy throng that half filled a hockey arena in downtown Cincinnati, in a state, Ohio, which Trump won by nearly nine points on election night.
The ostensible purpose of the event was to stress a message of national unity after a fractious campaign and to lay out a road map for Trump’s presidency.
But the President-elect showed that the heavy burdens of office that are about to settle on his shoulders and the behavioral constraints that normally apply to a head of state are not going to cramp his quintessential political style.
In apparent diversions from his teleprompter, he lashed the “dishonest” media, jabbed Ohio Gov. John Kasich who refused to support him, crowed at his victory over Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. He boasted about his election win, which defied the pundits who said he had no path to 270 electoral votes. He doubled down on controversial campaign vows to build a wall on the border with Mexico, to restrict Muslim immigration into the US and to repeal and replace Obamacare.
And in renewing his bonds with his loyal, vocal supporters, who chanted “Build the Wall” and “Lock her Up” in reference to Clinton, he sent a warning to opponents in Washington, even members of his own party, that he plans to marshal his unique political power base throughout his presidency.
And perhaps more than anything else, Trump was having fun, reveling in being back as the rhetorical general of his grass roots army, riling his foes and commanding the spotlight surrounded by a worshipful crowd.
‘Don’t tell anybody’
He couldn’t resist breaking his own embargo on the announcement that is coming Monday that he will name hard-charging Marine General James Mattis to run the Pentagon. “We are going to appoint Mad Dog Mattis as our secretary of defense,” Trump said, joking with the crowd, “We’re not announcing it until Monday – so don’t tell anybody. He’s the closest thing we have to Patton and it’s about time.”
Trump described a highlight reel of moments on election night, recalling how he had seen how state after state, including Democratic bastions like Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania vote for him, and mocked media analysts who said he couldn’t break Clinton’s blue wall.
“We didn’t break it, we shattered it!” Trump said.
He also, several times, apparently tongue-in-cheek indulged his famous ego, such as when he told the crowd he was simply a vessel to give voice to their frustrations.
“I am just really the messenger, although I have been a pretty good messenger,” Trump said.
He also took advantage of his stop in Ohio to take a dig at the Republican governor, who has been a vocal Trump opponent.
“Hey, in the great state of Ohio, we didn’t have the upper echelon of politician either did we?”
“I will say this, it was very nice, your governor, John Kasich, called me after the election, he said congratulations, that was amazing.”
Trump’s call for unity came as his supporters called for Clinton to be put in jail – underscoring that even when he seeks to ease the political divisions he tore open in the nation during the election, his own history political style and performance makes his task many times harder.
“We are not going to be divided for long, I have always brought people together, I know you find that hard to believe.”
“We did have a lot of fun fighting Hillary didn’t we?” Trump said, as the crowd uniformly and loudly chanted “Lock her Up! Lock Her Up!”
Trump has said since the election that he will not pursue an investigation into the former secretary of state’s private email server.
The vintage Trump performance Thursday night reflected an emerging theme of his transition. On the one had, the President-elect is presiding over a professional and quickening effort to construct his government and agenda. He appeared sober and serious while meeting President Barack Obama in the Oval Office. Yet there are also other moments, like his early morning Twitter tirades and his freewheeling performance on Thursday night when he behaves like the unorthodox force that turned American politics on its head. How these two sides of his character play out and coexist will shape his presidency.
The thank you tour begins as Trump puts together his Cabinet, after naming nominees to head the Treasury, Commerce and Transportation departments, part of the huge task of standing up his administration before the inauguration in January.
Trump also rebuked critics who have criticized him for nominating billionaire businessman Wilbur Ross as Commerce Secretary.
“The guy knows how to make money, folks,” Trump said, before musing on the rest of his cabinet “Greatest killers you’ve ever seen – it’s time.”
The rally also provided a preview of the way that Trump will seek to keep his supporters motivated throughout his presidency, in case his agenda is stalled or challenged by establishment Republicans in Washington.
“Every single day, you will be the agents of change,” Trump told the crowd. Speaker after speaker before Trump arrived made similar points. Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin quoted Winston Churchill who one said after World War II that the British people were lions and he had simply been chosen to roar for them.
“You are the lion and you have chosen Donald Trump and Mike Pence to deliver the roar,” Bevin told the crowd.
Trump’s senior political adviser Stephen Miller beseeched the crowd to “stay engaged for the next eight years.”
“It is going to take energy, dedication and passion that I know each and every one of you have to support our President-elect so he can finish the job.”
Trump also used the rally to double down on bedrock campaign themes. He renewed his promise to prioritize American interests over the rest of the world and warned that a knife attack at Ohio State University by a radicalized student on Monday was the result of lax refugee policies backed by “stupid people.”
“People are pouring in from regions of the Middle East – we have not idea who they are, where they come from what they are thinking and we are going to step that dead cold.”
The President-elect arrived in Ohio from Indiana where he highlighted the deal he made with Carrier, a heating and air conditioner firm to save 1,000 jobs that had been set to move to Mexico – fulfilling a campaign promise. He billed the deal as just the first step of a nationwide revival.
“It’s time to remove the rust from the Rust Belt and usher in a new industrial revolution,” Trump said.
While the rally lacked some of the fury and seething sense of revolt that marked the final days of the election campaign, it was if nothing had changed since Trump became President-elect.
The chants and the applause lines and the freewheeling Trump were all familiar. The short repeating soundtrack including Trump’s campaign anthem “You Can’t Always Get Want You Want” by the Rolling Stones was the same.
In fact, the only thing different from a pre-election rally was that when Trump was announced by Pence as “the next President of the United States” – it did not represent a seemingly distant hope – it was a statement of fact.