Trump spoke to the Boy Scouts Jamboree Monday night, bringing up his surprise election win and decrying "fake news"
The President has talked politics at other traditionally non-partisan locales such as the CIA and Coast Guard Academy
"Who the Hell wants to talk about politics when I am in front of the Boy Scouts?"
New White House communications czar Anthony Scaramucci wasn’t joking when he said he wanted Donald Trump to “be himself.”
The President offered a fresh exhibition of his unorthodox, unchained approach to politics on Monday night at the Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia.
To be fair, he did pay lip service to the idea that some occasions should be immune from politics.
“We put aside all of the policy fights in Washington DC you have been hearing about with all the fake news and all of that. We are going to put that aside,” Trump told a rowdy throng he called “young patriots,” who periodically broke into cheers of “USA, USA.”
“Who the hell wants to talk about politics when I am in front of the Boy Scouts?” Trump asked the crowd of around 40,000.
But then, Trump proceeded to turn one of the more worthy and non-partisan presidential duties into a stark political rally.
The President raged against the Washington “cesspool,” boasted about the big Midwest swing state wins that got him to the White House, slammed the “fake news” media and mocked Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
He even joked about firing Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price if he didn’t round up the votes to repeal and replace Obamacare this week. At least it looked like he was joking.
It was the latest occasion in which the President has used what have traditionally been seen as non-partisan, ceremonial aspects of the commander-in-chief’s role to lash his enemies in an explicit and deeply political way.
In a commencement speech at the US Coast Guard Academy in June, the President complained that “no politician in history” had been treated worse or more unfairly than him.
Shortly after being inaugurated, he gave a strikingly political speech at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, that offended some sectors of the agency’s workforce.
Trump did offer some uplifting stories Monday — including a moving discourse on the need to keep up momentum in life and in business — and implored the young scouts never to give up working and advised them to find a career they loved.
But he seeded the inspirational content of his speech with sharp jabs that contrasted with the more neutral tone of the remarks by the last two presidents to address the scout jamboree in person, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
Trump played off the scout loyalty pledge to criticize those in Washington who he feels are showing insufficient allegiance to him.
“We could really use some more loyalty, I will tell you that,” Trump said, without saying to whom he was referring.
In recent days, the President has accused Republicans of showing him insufficient loyalty over their failure to move quickly to pass a health care bill.
On Monday, he tweeted about his “beleaguered” Attorney General Jeff Sessions, after saying last week he would never have nominated the former Alabama senator had he known he would recuse himself from oversight of the Russia investigation.
In his aside at Price, who was on stage, Trump said he hoped the HHS chief would get the votes to kill “this horrible thing known as Obamacare.”
“He better get ‘em, otherwise I will say ‘Tom, you’re fired,’” Trump said, using humor with a suggestion of an aggressive undercurrent in a way that is fast becoming his trademark Washington persona.
Trump walked back to put his arm around Price – but then added: “You better get Senator Capito to vote for it.” Shelley Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican, is a holdout against the repeal and replace bill.
Campaign rally themes
Trump, who is holding a traditional campaign rally Tuesday in Ohio, returned to his familiar campaign tropes Monday – claiming television channels would not show the size of the crowd.
“The press will say it’s about 200 people,” he said, even as news networks covering the event panned their cameras over the vast crowd.
He got the scouts to boo his predecessor, Obama, when he reminded them that the former President hadn’t addressed the jamboree in person.
He mocked his former Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton, for not working hard enough to win the midwestern swing states where he pulled off shock wins during the election.
And he slammed “fake” polls and “fake news” while mocking political commentators who once argued that he had no path to 270 electoral votes.
“You remember that incredible night with the maps?” Trump asked.
“That map was so red it was unbelievable and they didn’t know what to say.”
“We won Florida, and we won, South Carolina, we won North Carolina, we won Pennsylvania, we won and won.”
“And then Wisconsin came in … Michigan came in,” Trump said, paying tribute to millions of people in his political base who helped him get elected at a time of personal political peril where his loyal supporters are more important to him than ever.
Comparisons to Bush, Clinton
Trump’s speech contrasted sharply with the tone of speeches by Bush and Clinton to the Boy Scout Jamboree.
In 1997, Clinton offered a meditation on the importance of “doing a good turn” and duty and service, and national unity, in a speech devoid of partisan political comment.
“We need you if we’re going to have a country where every person, without regard to race or station in life, who is responsible enough to work for it, can live out his or her dreams,” Clinton said in Bowling Green, Virginia.
Eight years later, at Fort A.P. Hill, Virginia, Bush, at a time of war, gave a speech about faith and values and the importance of embracing a cause greater than oneself.
“In the years ahead you will find that indifferent or cynical people accomplish little that makes them proud. You’ll find that confronting injustice and evil requires a vision of goodness and truth,” Bush said.
“For your sake, and for the sake of our country, I hope you’ll always strive to be men of conviction and character,” said Bush in a speech that also avoided overt electoral or political content.
Trump did make several paeans to the values of the Scout movement.
“Through scouting, you also learn to believe in yourself, so important, to have confidence in your ability and to take responsibility for your own life.”
But often, such sentiments seemed like a sideshow to the main event.