The most unconventional president in generations kicked off his 2020 re-election campaign Saturday in Florida, railing against the “fake news” media and promising to take his message directly to the American people.
Weeks after his top aide coined the term “alternative facts,” Trump delivered what amounted to an alternative news report to the American people.
“The White House is running so smoothly,” he said with dramatic flair, days after firing his National Security Advisor and as he struggles to find a replacement. He sought to explain away court rulings enjoining the enforcement on his controversial travel ban, the snail's pace legislative agenda rollout.
Most presidents look to govern for a bit before returning to the campaign trail, but Trump isn’t most presidents.
"Life is a campaign,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on his 30th day in office, as he made the brief flight up the Florida coast from the "Winter White House," his Mar-a-Lago club. “Making our country great again is a campaign. For me it's a campaign, to make America great again is absolutely a campaign."
Coming on the heels of a marathon press conference on Thursday in which he mocked and pleaded with the news media over their coverage of his campaign, the rally was another opportunity for the president to do what he has always done best: serve as his own pitchman.
The fiery speech in a humid aircraft hangar on Florida’s space coast was unmistakably Trump. Alternately reading from a teleprompter and seemingly winging it, Trump said he wanted to speak to his supporters and the broader American public “without the filter of the fake news.”
The phrase has become a catch-all assault on the free press from the President designed to rally his followers to ignore reports of dysfunction in his administration. In a Friday tweet, Trump declared mainstream news outlets like the New York Times and CNN “the enemy of the American People.”
White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus told CBS Face the Nation of Trump’s comments on the press as the enemy, “I think you should take it seriously.” His chief strategist has repeatedly referred to the press as “the opposition party.”
“We will continue to expose them for what they are,” Trump told the crowd of 9,000 in Melbourne.
The venue previously hosted Trump’s first rally after a rocky performance in the first general election presidential debate in September 2016. Then too, he lashed out at the “corrupt corporate media” for panning his performance, as he claimed victory despite reputable polls showing he had lost and he himself blaming a defective microphone for knocking him off his game.
“We’re doing good folks, we’re going to do something that’s never been done before,” Trump maintained then.
More than three months after he shocked the world with his White House win, Trump’s message was much the same. Instead of electoral projections, it was job approval numbers. He promised swift progress on his multitude of campaign promises, like building a wall along the southern border and deporting people who are illegally in the U.S.
All of it was red meat for his supporters, who chanted "CNN sucks" and “fake news.” After Trump departed, more than 100 Trump supporters crowded the media pen to chant, “Tell the truth.”
The rally was paid for by Trump’s campaign, which reconstituted itself in January for the 2020 re-elect. Ever the showman, he called up a supporter to the stage who he’d watched interviewed on cable news after showing up at 4 a.m. for the rally.
Trump won Brevard County, which includes Melbourne, by nearly 20 percentage points in November, outperforming Mitt Romney by about six percentage points from 2012.
The event was a jazzed-up highlights reel of Trump’s familiar campaign rallies. Elton John’s "Tiny Dancer," Free’s "All Right Now," and Pavarotti’s rendition of "Nessun Dorma" were in steady circulation as well as the song that became a de facto anthem for the new president, Frank Sinatra’s "My Way." On their way into the venue attendees were given the option of red “Make America Great Again” signs or pom-poms to hold during the rally. Outside, venders hawked Trump gear, including his signature red hats, while inside the campaign sold its own "45" swag. The local airport authority printed its own “Let’s Make America’s Airports Great Again” signs.
But where Trump used to park his personal Boeing 757 behind him as he spoke, now it was the iconic blue and white 747 of Air Force One. The plane taxied to the open hangar doors as the theme from the movie “Air Force One” blared from the sound system. The President and First Lady to Lee Greenwood’s ‘Proud to Be an American,” as Trump waved a red baseball cap to the crowd.
Melania Trump delivered her most extensive remarks in public since the day her husband was sworn-in, leading the crowd in the Lord’s Prayer and making an appeal “greater civility and unity” across the political divide. But even she had harsh words for the press, telling her husband’s supporters. “I will always be truthful to myself and truthful to you, no matter what the opposition is saying about me."
There was little doubt that Trump enjoyed the adoration of his supporters, as he flashed thumbs-up signs and signed autographs before returning to Air Force One for the flight back to his weekend getaway.
Trump views rallies like Saturday’s as part of the job of the president, an aide said, promoting the “spirit” of the American people. On Friday, a spokeswoman referred to the event as a “a campaign rally for America,” while a White House official said Trump expects to hold more rallies outside of Washington in the upcoming weeks.