Last night’s televised presidential speech on Afghanistan is naturally getting a lot of attention as a major news event in its own right, and also as a way for Donald Trump to turn the page from his ugly and divisive press conference last week. Since the president didn’t depart from his script to rant again about the fine people marching with neo-Nazis, sticking to offering a justification for a new and relatively small troop deployment, it’s a pretty cut-and-dried story.
But for a less predictable presidential moment, we need wait only for this evening, when Trump is scheduled to hold one of his campaign-style rallies in Phoenix, Arizona (despite pleas from the mayor of Phoenix that he delay the rally until the country has time to heal from the wounds inflicted by the white-supremacist riot in Charlottesville).
As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent notes, we’re near the anniversary of Trump’s big and nasty immigration speech in Phoenix during the stretch run of the 2016 campaign. So it would not be surprising if he decides to reignite the fiery support of nativists tomorrow night with any number of dramatic gestures available to him. These could include a possible pardon for former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, recently convicted of criminal contempt of court for continuing racial profiling after being told to cut it out by a federal judge. He could also announce some sort of decision on DACA, the Obama executive order that offered protection against deportation for DREAMers. And it’s also possible he’ll throw down the gauntlet to Congress to fund his border wall or risk a government shutdown or even a debt default at the end of September.
In the incendiary atmosphere of a rally of true believers, Trump could also, if he really wants to live on the edge, return to the topic of Charlottesville, though he may be saving that one for his next rally in a former Confederate state.
Finally, Trump could use the Arizona venue to reassert his control over the Republican Party. It just so happens that the state is the home of one senator who derailed Trumpcare, and another who just published a book attacking Trump’s ideological orthodoxy. Perhaps Trump will steer clear of blasting John McCain given the senator’s health condition. But it would be surprising if he didn’t go after Jeff Flake with a vengeance, since Trump has already called him “toxic” and all but endorsed a 2018 primary challenger.
All in all, the timing and location of the Phoenix speech could tempt Trump to bust out of the restraints of a tightly confined national security address and be his uninhibited self. That’s an alarming prospect for everyone else.