I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Thursday, November 30, 2017. 341 days until Election Day 2018. 1,069 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at email@example.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!
In today's newsletter... President Donald Trump delivered a speech on tax reform in St. Charles, Missouri on Wednesday, and he broached a number of other topics as well. I received White House press credentials to cover the speech, and I was in the room at the St. Charles Convention Center as Trump spoke. Here's my analysis of his remarks, and how they tie into his other recent comments:
AnalysisThe "I Don't Care" Phase: Trump Continues Eyebrow-Raising Week in St. Charles, Missouri
ST. CHARLES, Mo. — Even for a self-described "unpredictable" President, Donald Trump's latest moves have been especially eyebrow-raising. On Friday and Saturday, he engaged in Twitter-combat with two major news organizations (TIME and CNN), complaining that the former had not promised him their "Person of the Year" cover and labeling the latter as "fake news." On Sunday, he split with his party to double down on supporting Republican Senate candidate Roy Moore, who has been accused of child molestation, in Alabama.
On Monday, he came under fire for referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren as "Pocahontas" at an event honoring Native Americans. On Tuesday, a tweet from Trump caused Democrats to pull out of a White House meeting on government funding. And on Wednesday, the world woke up to a trio of retweets from the President sharing anti-Muslim videos from a right-wing British group; soon, he followed those with a pair of tweets criticizing NBC in light of anchor Matt Lauer's firing over sexual harassment allegations.
But hours later, Trump flew to St. Charles, Missouri to finally dive into the issue congressional Republicans have been attempting to focus on all week: tax reform. The White House promised that the President's remarks would "emphasize the need for tax relief for the American economy"; his focus, a senior administration official said Tuesday, would be "all about bringing back Main Street."
Instead, the address on Wednesday was more reminiscent of a campaign-style speech that Trump became known for at his rallies in 2015 and 2016. Before the President arrived, about 1,000 invited guests, many wearing Trump-Pence gear or "Make America Great Again" hats, milled about as music like "Hey Jude" blared. The at-times-raucous crowd interrupted Trump many times to cheer and and applaud; as if on cue, many in the room turned to boo and jeer when the President mentioned the "fake news" media in the back of the room. And, just as at many campaign events in the holiday season, when he walked onstage, Trump's podium was flanked by four Christmas trees and two "Merry Christmas" posters.
The holiday was the first topic Trump brought up. "I told you that we would be saying 'Merry Christmas' again, right?" the President said to open his remarks. The return of Christmas greetings was just one of the many familiar lines he harkened back to in St. Charles.
The crowd applauded as he reminded them of his oldest promise, the construction of a wall on the southern border: "We're going to have the wall, don't worry about it."
They cheered as he mocked his 2016 rival, invoking her famed line from the Benghazi hearings, in a seemingly unrelated section on his own wealth: "As Hillary said, 'what difference does it make?'"
They laughed as he referenced North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, just days after a missile launch showed the state has the capability of hitting the U.S. mainland: "Sick puppy."
Trump's initial allusion to Un, in an address meant to be focused not on national security but on taxes, was an example of the word-association often seen in the President's speeches. "These massive tax cuts will be rocket fuel—," Trump began to say, before stopping to grin. "Hmm, Little Rocket Man," he interjected, before completing the original thought, "—for the American economy." And then, just like that, he was promoting a St. Charles businesswoman.
"Its like he's on the campaign trail again. He loves this stuff," The Daily Mail U.S. political editor David Marktosko, a longtime Trump reporter who interviewed for the position of White House press secretary at the beginning of the Administration, said to another reporter in the press section, remarks on Trump bringing back some of his "greatest hits."
While he was frequently sidetracked, Trump also devoted much of his 45-minute speech in St. Charles to his intended topic, tax reform. "Just three months ago, we came to this state to launch our plan to bring back Main Street by cutting taxes for American families and small businesses," the President said, remembering his August trip to Springfield at the beginning of the tax debate. "Today, I've come back...to push our plan right across the finish line, and we're gonna do that."
Noting that the House has already passed a tax reform plan, he added: "The eyes of the world now turn to the United States," expressing optimism that the upper chamber would approve the legislation this week. Then, the plan goes to a conference committee made up of representatives of both chambers of Congress — although Trump had his own term for the process on Wednesday. "If it passes, it goes into this beautiful committee, I call it a pot," he said, forming a pot with his hands, and then imitating stirring. "And we mix it up, we stir it up, we bring all the best things out. You're gonna have something, I predict, that's gonna be really, really special." Trump underlined the Republican hope that tax reform is passed by the end of the year, promising "a big beautiful Christmas present" of tax cuts to the American people.
The President's speech came as the GOP plan has picked up momentum. On Wednesday, the Senate advanced the tax bill in a party-line vote, 52-48, allowing debate to begin on the legislation ahead of a likely vote on Friday. In St. Charles, Trump called the current "moment in time," with unified Republican control of the federal government, a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to restore American prosperity and reclaim America's great destiny."
"If we do this, America will win again like never, ever before," he said. "A vote to cut taxes is a vote to put America first again." His argument for the plan followed the "American First" slogan: Trump spoke about the need to bring businesses back to the United States and divert resources used to defend foreign countries to helping American citizens.
"We want a tax code that is simple and fair and that's for all Americans," the President declared. Trump repeatedly spoke about the "middle class," promising that the plan was crafted for them. "Our focus is on helping the folks who work in the mailrooms and the machine shops of America. The plumbers, and the carpenters, and the cops, and the teachers, and the truck drivers, and the pipe fitters," Trump said, adding: "those are the people I understand the best, those are the people I grew up with, those are the people I worked on construction sites with."
In addition to listing his accomplishments, especially the nation's economic successes ("I will tell you this in a non-braggadocious way: there has never been a ten-month President who has accomplished what we have accomplished), Trump also ticked off a wish-list of priorities to come. "I thought we had health care, and we will have health care," he said. "It's gonna happen. As soon as we get the taxes, we work on the health care." And then, he asked the crowd: "Does anybody want welfare reform?" As the attendees responded, "Yes!" he added, "and infrastructure!"
Adding to the campaign-event feel, Trump declared, "We must start totally winning, and winning, and winning again," continuing to name things he wanted to change as he went on. His own mention of "disastrous trade deals" caused the President to clutch his head and exclaim, "Oh the trade deals! I get a headache thinking about, who makes these trade deals?"
"We're gonna fix our trade," he promised, as if campaigning, although he did not elaborate on how he would do so now that he was in office.
But, first: tax reform. Trump made clear that he wanted to pass the tax bill as soon as possible. He said: "I think we're there. That's why I said, 'can we do the vote today?' What do I now? I'm a business guy! Can we do a vote now? They said, 'how about Friday?' I said, 'I don't want to wait 'till Friday!'"
In a recurring theme of the speech, the President insisted that the plan would hurt his wealthy friends. "It's gonna cost me a fortune, this thing, believe me," he continued. "Believe me, this is not good for me." However, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center has found that 63% of the 2019 savings in the Senate tax bill would go to the top 20% of earners, while less than 20% would go to the bottom 60% of earners. Additionally, analyses have shown that President Trump would, in fact, be among those who would benefit from the legislation.
Speaking about how his wealthy friends are angry about the GOP tax reform plan, Trump gave insight into his current mindset. "Look, I'm president. I don't care," he said. "I don't care any more." Could the speech in Missouri have been a preview of a new "I don't care" phase of his presidency?
"Trump's behavior raises questions of competency," a CNN headline stated on Wednesday. In a separate piece, the network's Chris Cillizza asked: "Is Donald Trump losing control?" Cillizza wrote, in a piece published before the St. Charles address but that could have been describing it: "Trump is someone who prides himself on a sort of everywhere-all-at-once approach to governance. He throws lots and lots of things at the wall every day -- through tweets, public statements and policy maneuvers. He has, from the start of his political career, reveled in thumbing his nose at conventional wisdom and political correctness. He is a provocateur by nature; he likes to get reaction, he likes to freak out the squares."
"And yet, the last few days Trump feels even more unmoored than usual. More erratic. More wild."
Noting the same shift, New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman — who knows Trump like few others in the media — said in a TV interview on Wednesday: "Something is unleashed with him lately. I don't know how to describe it." Noting his recent tweets and comments, a Washington Post headline summed up the last few days: "Trump veers past guardrails, feeling impervious to the uproar he causes." Politico described his recent social media activity as a sign of "John Kelly's losing battle with Trump's Twitter feed." ABC News' Rick Klein wrote today of the President's recent "outbursts": "This isn't normal."
And this new pivot may be permanent. "Brace yourself," Axios' Mike Allen wrote this morning. "White House officials expect Trump to be even more outrageous and cocksure in coming months...Officials tell us Trump seems more self-assured, more prone to confidently indulging wild conspiracies and fantasies, more quick-triggered to fight than he was during the Wild West of the first 100 days in office." He added: "We just witnessed the most unthinkable 96 hours of Trump's reign," while Jonathan Swan, also of Axios, called Wednesday "the darkest day of Trump's presidency."
Meanwhile, Republicans on Capitol Hill, some publicly, and at the White House, all anonymously, have expressed concerns, over recent reports about Trump's return to conspiracy theorizing, apparently on issues including the "Access Hollywood" tape and former President Barack Obama's birth certificate. Trump has acknowledged the veracity of both in the past; now he is reportedly doubting them, labeling both as "fake" in private.
But the Republicans gathered in St. Charles didn't seem concerned on Wednesday. In interviews after the speech, attendees gushed over the President's remarks, calling them "excellent" and "great." Missouri State Treasurer Eric Schmitt, one of the many elected Republicans in the room, told Wake Up To Politics that he liked the speech and supported the President's tax reform plan. "I think moving the country forward on lower taxes for working families and small businesses is definitely a step in the right direction," Schmitt said, adding that he was "very hopeful" that the Senate would approve the plan.
Another elected official in attendance, state Sen. Bob Onder (R-MO), tweeted about how much he enjoyed Trump's jumping from topic to topic. ".@realDonaldTrump goes from Iraq to Lewis & Clark to #FakeNews cameras in 1 paragraph," he said. "It's why we love this guy!"
Just like the president in recent days, his supporters seemed emboldened and energized by the speech, especially in interactions with media. After booing the gathered journalists during the address, some came to the press section afterward to berate them. "You're still in business, CNN?" one asked. "Was that awesome or awesome?" another said. A group of supporters selling Trump apparel outside tried to sell "Fake News" shirts to those with press badges.
Getting the crowd even more fired up as he left, Trump ended on the same topic he started with: the holiday season. "You don't see 'Merry Christmas anymore. With Trump as your President, we are going to be celebrating Merry Christmas again," he said. And then, to close the speech: back to taxes: "It's gonna be done with a big beautiful tax cut."
"You Can't Always Get What You Want" by the Rolling Stones played as he walked out.