When Donald Trump headlines a campaign rally or speaks at a fundraiser, there's an expectation that the president will deliver partisan remarks to partisan audiences. Politics, for all intents and purposes, is the point of these presidential appearances.
But when Trump speaks at an official policy event, however, there's an expectation that he'll put aside partisanship and address the substantive policy issues at hand.
The problem with this president -- one of them, anyway -- is that Trump doesn't have more than one speed. It's why, when the Republican traveled to Louisiana yesterday to deliver remarks on energy policy, he abandoned his script and started deriding many prominent Democratic presidential candidates.
Trump drew out the pronunciation of Pete Buttigieg's uncommon last name, saying: "We've got Boot-edge-edge." Using a derisive nickname for Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the president mused: "Pocahontas, I think, is probably out."Trump also said former vice president Joe Biden "doesn't look like the guy I knew" while taking aim at "crazy" Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who has a "lot more energy than Biden . . . but it's energy to get rid of your jobs."And Trump ridiculed former congressman Beto O'Rourke (D-Tex.) for a Vanity Fair interview in which O'Rourke claimed that he was "just born to be in" the presidential race."He was made to fall like a rock!" Trump said at an event designed to tout his energy policies at a liquefied-natural-gas plant in this southwestern Louisiana town. "What happened to him?"
At face value, the fact that the president enjoys taking rhetorical shots at some of his would-be rivals is uninteresting. But context matters: official policy speeches, paid for by taxpayers and intended to address all Americans, are supposed to be free of electoral cheerleading for ethical reasons.
Trump, evidently, doesn't much care.
But making matters slightly worse, the president's speech on energy policy also made clear that he still doesn't know much about energy policy.
This excerpt from Trump's remarks, slamming proponents of the Green New Deal, stood out for me.
"They don't like anything. They don't know what they like. They sort of like wind, even though it kills all the birds. You want to see a bird cemetery? Go under a windmill sometime. You'll see the saddest, you got every type of bird."You know, in California, you go to jail for five years if you kill a bald eagle. If you go under a windmill, you see them all over the place. Not a good situation. But that's what they were counting on: wind. And when the wind doesn't blow, you don't watch television that night. Your wife said, 'What the hell did you get me into with this Green New Deal, Charlie?'"
First, Trump genuinely seems to believe that homes powered by wind can't watch television when the skies are calm. This isn't how energy policy works. The more he makes arguments like these, the more I wonder if he thinks homes with solar panels go dark after sundown.
Second, it's amusing that the president believes the most serious concern with power outages is the inability to watch television.
Third, Trump's opposition to wind power appears to have a lot to do with his Scottish golf resort, not his interest in ornithology. (And for what it's worth, while wind turbines can kill birds, he's wildly overstating the effects.)
But even putting all of these relevant details aside, let's not miss the forest for the trees: Trump peddled discredited nonsense about energy policy during a speech devoted to energy policy. Is it any wonder substantive debates with this White House are so difficult?
Postscript: The last time Trump shared his thoughts on wind turbines, he suggested they cause cancer. I suppose we should be thankful he showed some restraint yesterday?