Yesterday morning, Donald Trump addressed the nation on the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and managed to stick to the carefully written script on his teleprompter. There were no asides, no tangents, no tantrums, and none of the staples of this president’s approach to communicating with the public.Many observers exhaled deeply when it was over, relieved that Trump didn’t use mass murder to say something offensive. Some in the media were a bit too effusive in their praise of the remarks, probably because they were pleasantly surprised the president resisted his usual impulses.
The trouble, of course, was that Trump’s speech didn’t sound anything like Trump. The Atlantic’s David Frum, a former George W. Bush speechwriter, explained, “Speeches are watched as well as heard, and the viewer saw a president who wished he were somewhere else because he had been compelled to pretend something so radically false to his own nature.”
This morning Trump briefly spoke to reporters as he departed the White House for a trip to Puerto Rico, and without the benefit of his teleprompter, the president was free to say what he was thinking. Reflecting on the Las Vegas slayings and the first-responders at the scene, Trump said today, “Look, we have a tragedy. What happened is, in many ways, a miracle.”
He then turned his attention to Puerto Rico’s crisis, and the “great job” he believes he and his team have done. The Washington Post reported:
Trump’s mixed reviews, however, did not stop him from lavishing praise on himself and his administration. On Tuesday, as the president, clad in a black windbreaker and khakis, departed the White House, he said [San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz] has “come back a long way,” before returning to one his favorite topics – himself and his own performance.
“I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done, and people are looking at that,” he said. “And in Texas and in Florida, we get an A-plus. And I’ll tell you what, I think we’ve done just as good in Puerto Rico, and it’s actually a much tougher situation. But now the roads are cleared, communications is starting to come back. We need their truck drivers to start driving trucks.”
According to a variety of media accounts, Trump went on to say that Puerto Ricans “have to give us more help.”
Wait, it gets worse.
Once the president was speaking to his fellow Americans on the devastated island, Trump added, “Now I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack.”
As if locals, struggling to survive, really need to hear right now about the fiscal challenges the president doesn’t understand anyway.
He added that Puerto Rico has had it rough, but the island didn’t suffer a “real catastrophe” such as Hurricane Katrina.
All of this has a familiar feel. The day violence erupted in Charlottesville, Trump responded by blaming “both sides” – racists and those who oppose them – for the unrest. A day later, the president delivered more sensible remarks from the White House while reading from his teleprompter. But Trump soon had a meltdown during in a press conference, at which he spoke without a prepared text, and ended up defending at least some of the bigots as “very fine people.”
Now we’re seeing a replay. Whether the president understands this or not, Trump tends to cause the most trouble for himself when he says what’s actually on his mind.