President Donald Trump capped off his tumultuous fourth week in office by essentially relaunching his presidential campaign in front of a crowd of cheering supporters on Saturday. The event, hosted in a Melbourne, Florida, airplane hangar, resembled a typical Trump campaign rally in almost every way — save the dramatic entrance of Air Force One (set to the theme music of Air Force One). In a scripted and greatly recycled stump speech, Trump repeatedly insisted that his administration was running “so smoothly” and already making “incredible progress,” and he angrily blamed the media for any suggestion otherwise. He also took the opportunity to complain about the federal judges who ruled against his botched travel ban, falsely claimed that there has been no way to vet refugees and other immigrants before they gain entry to the U.S., seemed to falsely imply that there was some kind of terrorist attack on Friday night in Sweden, and criticized Democratic lawmakers for not automatically confirming the very few appointees he has nominated for roles in the executive branch since taking office.
“I am here because I want to be among my friends and among the people,” Trump declared at the outset of his appearance, following brief remarks by his wife, Melania. The White House had previously explained that the Saturday rally was meant to give Trump a way to reach his supporters without having to go through the media, though the White House seemed to offer no live coverage of the event, relying instead on television news channels to broadcast it. The rally was also supposedly put on by the Trump campaign, rather than the Trump administration, but it’s not clear what that distinction actually means to them. (A White House spokesperson called it “a campaign rally for America” rather than admit it was the first event of the 2020 election cycle.) Either way, Trump worked to list his brief administration’s accomplishments throughout the speech, but much of that effort was comprised of slightly updated campaign promises about action yet to come — like noting that he has given executive orders, even though it’s not yet clear what impact many of those orders will actually have.
The 9,000-person crowd — which was apparently smaller than the one for a near identical campaign event held in the same hangar in September — cheered and jeered on command just as they typically did during Trump’s presidential run. There weren’t any “lock-her-up” chants this time around, but when Trump criticized the media, many supporters turned and booed the press pen, and the president clearly relished leading that attack.
After a pugnacious 75-minute press conference on Thursday, and sending a tweet which called the media “the enemy of the American people” on Friday, Trump’s attacks on the press took a similar tone on Saturday. He told the crowd, up front, that he wanted to speak to them “without the filter of fake news,” and claimed, without evidence, that journalists have made up most of the sources in the numerous negative stories about his administration.
“They’ve become a big part of the problem, they are a part of the corrupt system,” Trump announced. He then tried to cite historical precedent for his repeated attacks, noting that “Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, and Abraham Lincoln, and many of our greatest presidents fought with the media and called them out oftentimes on their lies.”
“When the media lies to people, I will never, ever let them get away with it — I will do whatever I can that they don’t get away with it,” Trump claimed, prompting a surge of applause. “They have their own agenda, and their agenda is not your agenda,” he continued.
Trump even offered up a quote to back up his assault: “Jefferson said, ‘nothing can be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself,’ he said, ‘becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.’” Trump then bragged that the quote was written on the same day as his birthday.
That’s a real Jefferson line, by the way, as he did regularly complain about the press and even tried to censor them when he was president, but he was also a staunch supporter and protector of freedom of the press throughout his life. “Jefferson never said about the press what Trump says about the press,” historian and Jefferson biographer Joseph Ellis explained to the Washington Post in a post published on Saturday morning. (And regarding the citing of Abraham Lincoln’s relationship with the press — that’s a complicated history as well.)
President Trump is clearly trying to regain his campaign-era mojo after a mostly bungled first month in office. It’s not yet clear if he will schedule more campaignlike events, or if these events are just an attempt to bolster his ego or highlight the still-fervent support of many of his voters, or, as the White House claims, give Trump more opportunities to speak directly to Americans — claiming and promising whatever he wants. Campaign-style events are not at all unprecedented for presidents, even early in their terms, but typically they are aimed at supporting a particular message or legislative goal. Trump claims he doesn’t believe negative polls, but those polls indicate that his approval rating has done nothing but fall since he took office. In fact, right now, it’s already at the level of President Obama’s all-time low. Considering that and the numerous other problems the Trump administration has created for itself since assuming power, the main goal of Saturday’s rally was less about winning support than manufacturing an opportunity for Trump to deny that his presidency has failed to launch, both to his supporters and himself. Only the media, according to Trump, stands between Americans and his version of reality.