Democracy Dies in Darkness

Post Politics

As Trump ranted and rambled in Phoenix, his crowd slowly thinned

By Jenna Johnson

August 23, 2017 at 6:55 AM

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President Trump gave a contentious speech at a campaign rally in Phoenix on Aug. 22, attacking the media, GOP senators and "obstructionist" Democrats. Here are the highlights. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post)

PHOENIX — Just before President Trump strolled onto the rally stage on Tuesday evening, four speakers took turns carefully denouncing hate, calling for unity and ever so subtly assuring the audience that the president is not racist.

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson proclaimed that "our lives are too short to let our differences divide us." Alveda King, the niece of Martin Luther King Jr., led everyone in singing a few lines of "How Great Thou Art." Evangelist Franklin Graham prayed for the politically and racially divided nation and asked the Lord to shut the mouths of "those in this country who want to divide, who want to preach hate." And Vice President Pence declared that "President Trump believes with all his heart … that love for America requires love for all its people." Meanwhile, a supporter seated directly behind stage even wore a T-shirt that stated: "Trump & Republicans are not racist."

Then Trump took the stage.

He didn't attempt to continue the carefully choreographed messaging of the night or to narrow the ever-deepening divide between the thousands of supporters gathered in the convention center hall before him and the thousands of protesters waiting outside.

Instead, Trump spent the first three minutes of his speech — which would drag on for 75 minutes — marveling at his crowd size, claiming that "there aren't too many people outside protesting," predicting that the media would not broadcast shots of his "rather incredible" crowd and reminiscing about how he was "center stage, almost from day one, in the debates."

Related: [At a time of national division, Trump travels to a blue city in a red state]

"We love those debates — but we went to center stage, and we never left, right?" the president said, reliving his glory days. "All of us. We did it together."

Over the next 72 minutes, the president launched into one angry rant after another, repeatedly attacking the media and providing a lengthy defense of his response to the violent clashes in Charlottesville, between white supremacists and neo-Nazis and the counterprotesters who challenged them. He threatened to shut down the government if he doesn't receive funding for a wall along the southern border, announced that he will "probably" get rid of the North American Free Trade Agreement, attacked the state's two Republican senators, repeatedly referred to protesters as "thugs" and coyly hinted that he will pardon Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County who was convicted in July of criminal contempt in Arizona for ignoring a judge's order to stop detaining people because he merely suspected them of being undocumented immigrants.

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President Trump spoke about possibly pardoning former Maricopa County, Ariz., sheriff Joe Arpaio during a rally in Phoenix on Aug. 22. Arpaio was convicted of criminal contempt in July. (The Washington Post)

Three times, the crowd burst into chants of "USA! USA! USA!" And once, at the mention of Trump's former rival Hillary Clinton, they chanted: "Lock her up! Lock her up! Lock her up!" Several parents put their young children on their shoulders so they could get a good look at the president.

But as the night dragged on, many in the crowd lost interest in what the president was saying.

Hundreds left early, while others plopped down on the ground, scrolled through their social media feeds or started up a conversation with their neighbors. After waiting for hours in 107-degree heat to get into the rally hall — where their water bottles were confiscated by security — people were tired and dehydrated and the president just wasn't keeping their attention. Although Trump has long been the master of reading the mood of a room and quickly adjusting his message to satisfy as many of his fans as possible, his rage seemed to cloud his senses.

Early in his speech, when Trump still had the attention of his followers, he recited his definition of what it means to be a Trump supporter.

"This evening, joined together with friends, we reaffirm our shared customs, traditions and values," Trump began. "We love our country. We celebrate our troops. We embrace our freedom. We respect our flag. We are proud of our history. We cherish our Constitution — including, by the way, the Second Amendment. We fully protect religious liberty. We believe in law and order. And we support the incredible men and women of law enforcement. And we pledge our allegiance to one nation under God."

Minutes later, Trump transitioned to a topic that he would return to again and again.

"What happened in Charlottesville strikes at the core of America," Trump said, appearing to read from the teleprompters placed on stage. "And tonight, this entire arena stands united in forceful condemnation of the thugs who perpetrate hatred and violence."

President Donald Trump, center, arrives with first lady Melania Trump, right, and U.S. United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, left, for the meeting of the U.N. General Assembly, Tuesday Sept. 19, 2017 at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
United States President Donald Trump speaks during the United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
U.S. President Donald Trump arrives with U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid
President Donald Trump, first lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, right, tour Naples Estates, a neighborhood impacted by Hurricane Irma, Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017, in Naples, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 13: Donald J. Trump, C, meets with a bipartisan group of House members - including, from L-R, Rep. Susan Brooks (R-IN-5), Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ-5), Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-NY-3, foreground, and Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL-7) - concerning tax reform in the Cabinet Room of the White House on Wednesday, September 13, 2017, in Washington, DC. (photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - US President Donald Trump meets with Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak of Malaysia in the Cabinet Room at the White House Tuesday September, 12 2017. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump participate in a moment of silence in remembrance of those who died on September 11, 2001 on the South Lawn of the White House Monday September, 11 2017. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
ARLINGTON, VA - SEPTEMBER 11: President Trump speaks during an observance ceremony for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack at the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, VA on September 11, 2017. (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)
ARLINGTON, VA - SEPTEMBER 11: President Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis greet members of the military following a memorial service for victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack at the Pentagon Memorial in Arlington, VA on September 11, 2017. (Photo by Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 7: President Donald Trump, right, and Amir Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah of Kuwait, left, hold their translation earphones as a reporter asks a question during a joint press conference in the East Room, on September, 07, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 6: President Donald Trump, center left, meets with Hill leadership in the Oval Office, on September, 06, 2017 in Washington, DC. From left are House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy(R-CA), Vice President Pence, Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-KY), Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer(D-NY), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi(D-CA). (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 6: Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer(D-NY), center left, and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-KY), center right, as seen through a window of the Oval Office during a meeting with President Donald Trump, on September, 06, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
President Donald Trump greets supporters before speaking about tax reform at the Andeavor Mandan Refinery, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017, in Mandan, N.D. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 7: President Donald Trump answers a question on terrorism as he holds a joint press conference with Amir Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah of Kuwait in the East Room, on September, 07, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
US President Donald Trump arrives to speak about the need for tax reform at Andeavor Refinery, September 6, 2017, in Mandan, North Dakota. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan SmialowskiBRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 5: President Donald Trump, left, meets with Hill leadership, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(R-KY), right, to discuss tax reform, on September, 05, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
President Donald Trump waves to the press, as he departs St. John's Episcopal Church and Assistant Rector D. Andrew Olivo, (C), with First Lady Melania Trump after they attended services for a national "Day of Prayer", for victims of the Hurricane Harvey flooding in Texas, in Washington, U.S., September 3, 2017. REUTERS/Mike Theiler
President Donald Trump and Melania Trump meet people impacted by Hurricane Harvey during a visit to the NRG Center in Houston, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017. He lifted this girl into his arms to give her a kiss. It was his second trip to Texas in a week, and this time his first order of business was to meet with those affected by the record-setting rainfall and flooding. He?s also set to survey some of the damage and head to Lake Charles, Louisiana, another hard-hit area. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Faith leaders place their hands on the shoulders of U.S. President Donald Trump as he takes part in a prayer for those affected by Hurricane Harvey in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. first lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence stand by U.S. President Donald Trump as he holds up FEMA map of damage assessment in Texas caused by Hurricane Harvey at the White House in Washington, U.S., September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Donald Trump takes the stage to speak about tax reform, Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017, at the Loren Cook Company in Springfield, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
US President Donald Trump(C) listens alongside Texas Governor Greg Abbott(L) and First Lady Melania Trump(R) during a firehouse briefing on Hurricane Harvey in Corpus Christi, Texas on August 29, 2017. President Donald Trump flew into storm-ravaged Texas Tuesday in a show of solidarity and leadership in the face of the deadly devastation wrought by Harvey -- as the battered US Gulf Coast braces for even more torrential rain. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSONJIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump holds a flag of the state of Texas after receiving a briefing on Tropical Storm Harvey relief efforts at a local fire station where local residents gathered to welcome the president in Corpus Christi, Texas, U.S., August 29, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 28: President Donald Trump talks about NAFTA as he holds a joint press conference with President Sauli Niinist� of Finland, on August, 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 28: President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands withPresident Sauli Niinist� of Finland, during their joint press conference on August, 28, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
President Donald Trump speaks at the National Convention of the American Legion, Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017, in Reno, Nev. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
US President Donald Trump shows his signature after signing the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act into law at the American Legion national convention on August 23, 2017 in Reno, Nevada. / AFP PHOTO / Nicholas KammNICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
U.S. President Donald Trump participates in a tour of U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility in Yuma, Arizona, U.S., August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump greets Marines during a stop at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma in Yuma, Arizona, U.S., August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
President Donald Trump speaks at Fort Myer in Arlington Va., Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, during a Presidential Address to the Nation about a strategy he believes will best position the U.S. to eventually declare victory in Afghanistan. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 21: President Donald Trump looks up toward the Solar Eclipse with out glasses, with first lady Melania Trump by his side, from a balcony at the White House in Washington, DC on Monday, Aug 21, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
US President Donald Trump, First Lady Melania Trump and their son Barron, walk to board Air Force One prior to departure from Morristown Municipal Airport in Morristown, New Jersey, August 20, 2017, as Trump returns to Washington, DC, following a 17-day vacation at his property in Bedminster, New Jersey. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 15: US President Donald Trump delivers remarks following a meeting on infrastructure at Trump Tower, August 15, 2017 in New York City. Standing alongside him from L to R, Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao and Director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney. He fielded questions from reporters about his comments on the events in Charlottesville, Virginia and white supremacists. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 14: President Donald Trump shows off a memorandum signed by him addressing China?s trade practices in the Diplomatic Reception Room at The White House on August 14, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 14: President Donald Trump salutes as he disembarks from Marine One at The White House on August 14, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post)
US President Donald Trump speaks to the press about protests in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017, at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey. A picturesque Virginia city braced Saturday for a flood of white nationalist demonstrators as well as counter-protesters, declaring a local emergency as law enforcement attempted to quell early violent clashes. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSONJIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
President Donald Trump and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, left, shake hands with military veterans after signing the Veteran's Affairs Choice and Quality Employment Act of 2017 at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminister, N.J., Saturday, Aug. 12, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Donald Trump waits to speaks during a workforce/apprenticeship discussion at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, N.J., Friday, Aug. 11, 2017. Trump received an update on the the president's workforce development policies and apprenticeship initiative. From left are, White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, the president, Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, Andrew Bremberg, Assistant to the President & Director, Domestic Policy Council and Ivanka Trump, the daughter and assistant to President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters after meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L), U.S. Ambassador�to the United Nations Nikki Haley (2nd R) and National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster (R) at Trump's golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey U.S. August 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to reporters with Vice President Mike Pence at his side at Trump's golf estate in Bedminster, New Jersey U.S. August 10, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 4: President Donald Trump walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn for a short trip to Andrews Air Force Base, Md. en route to Bedminster, N.J., for vacation, from the White House in Washington, DC on Friday, Aug 04, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
President Donald Trump talks with West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice during a rally Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017, in Huntington, W.Va. Justice, a Democrat, announced that he is switching parties to join the Republicans. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 3: President Donald Trump, accompanied by Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin talks with a patient during a Veterans Affairs Department "telehealth" event in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, Aug 03, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 2: President Donald Trump, flanked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R- Ark. and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., speaks during the unveiling of legislation that would place new limits on legal immigration in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday, Aug 02, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 2: President Donald Trump, flanked by Sen. Tom Cotton, R- Ark., speaks during the unveiling of legislation that would place new limits on legal immigration in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday, Aug 02, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
US President Donald Trump speaks with Ivanka Trump and SBA Administrator Linda McMahon (L) during an event with small businesses at the White House in Washington, DC, on August 1, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSONJIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 31: New White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and President Donald Trump shake hands after being privately sworn in during a ceremony in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on Monday, July 31, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 31: President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting in the Cabinet Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Monday, July 31, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
epa06116984 US President Donal J. Trump waves to well wishers after dining at Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC, USA, 29 July 2017. EPA/CHRIS KLEPONIS / POOL
Police officers applaud a line by U.S. President Donald Trump (R) as he delivers remarks about his proposed U.S. government effort against the street gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, to a gathering of federal, state and local law enforcement officials at the Long Island University campus in Brentwood, New York, U.S. July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 27: President Donald Trump shakes the hand of House Majority Whip Rep. Steve Scalise's wife Jennifer Scalise, as he recognizes the first responders from the June 14 Congressional baseball shooting, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, July 27, 2017. Congressman Steve Scalise was among four people shot by James Hodgkinson during a congressional baseball team practice. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 27: President Donald Trump presents the Medal of Valor to US Capitol Police Officer Crystal Griner, center left, during a ceremony honoring the first responders of the June 14 shooting against members of the Republican Congressional Baseball team, where US House Majority Whip Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, was shot, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Thursday, July 27, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 26: President Donald Trump greets Vice President Mike Pence, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wis., and Terry Gou, president and chief executive officer of Foxconn, after announcing the first U.S. assembly plant for electronics giant Foxconn in the East Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Wednesday, July 26, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Supporter Gno DiFabio (R) speaks alongside US President Donald Trump during a Make America Great Again rally at the Covelli Centre in Youngstown, Ohio, July 25, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEBSAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 25: President Donald Trump and Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri walk to the Rose Garden for a joint news conference at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 25: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, President Donald Trump and White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner participate in a meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in the Cabinet Room at the White House in Washington, DC on Tuesday, July 25, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
U.S. President Donald Trump waves after delivering remarks at the 2017 National Scout Jamboree in Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve, West Virginia, U.S., July 24, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 24: President Donald Trump speaks at an event about healthcare in the Blue Room of the White House in Washington, DC on Monday, July 24, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
President Donald Trump stands for the colors as he arrives during the commissioning ceremony of the aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN 78) at Naval Station Norfolk, Va., Saturday, July, 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 21: President Donald Trump greets others during a meeting with survivors of the attack on USS Arizona at Pearl Harbor, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC on Friday, July 21, 2017. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
President Donald Trump gestures to the crowd while speaking at a rally at the Phoenix Convention Center, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
Photo Gallery: A look at the second half, so far, of the president?s first year in the White House.

Related: [White House confronts backlash over Trump's remarks on Charlottesville]

Many in the crowd lit up at the use of the word "thugs" and applauded. Later in the evening, Trump would repeatedly use the same word to describe the protesters who showed up to his campaign rallies.

"But the very dishonest media," Trump continued, "those people right up there, with all the cameras."

He was cut off by loud booing. He smirked and nodded in agreement. A few people shouted, "Fake news!" A young girl in the crowd, who was wearing a white Make America Great Again hat, looked down at the handmade credential round her neck that stated in blue marker: "4th grade press."

"I mean truly dishonest people in the media and the fake media, they make up stories," Trump said. " … They don't report the facts. Just like they don't want to report that I spoke out forcefully against hatred, bigotry and violence and strongly condemned the neo-Nazis, the white supremacists and the KKK."

Trump reached into his suit pocket and removed a different set of talking points.

"I'm really doing this to show you how damned dishonest these people are," Trump said, promising that this would take "just a second" and would be "really fast."

Trump then took more than 16 minutes to read the various statements that he made about Charlottesville over several days, noting the use of all-caps for one word and skipping over the part where he said that "many sides" were responsible for the violence. After reading each snippet, Trump would detail why that response was not good enough for the media.

"Why did it take a day? He must be a racist," Trump said, the first of the five times he imitated people calling him a racist.

Along the way, Trump defended his use of Twitter and bragged that he went to "better schools" and lives "in a bigger, more beautiful apartment" than those who are considered elites. He said the "failing New York Times … is like so bad," mocked CNN for its ratings and accused The Washington Post of being "a lobbying tool for Amazon" because the newspaper is owned by Jeffrey P. Bezos, who founded Amazon. The crowd repeatedly booed the reporters in their midst and chanted: "CNN sucks! CNN sucks!"

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President Trump cast wide blame on the "fake media" in Phoenix on Aug. 22. (The Washington Post)

At one point, Trump was interrupted by two protesters, who were quickly led out of the arena by security, giving Trump's supporters something to videotape and share on Facebook or Snapchat.

"Don't bother," Trump said, as the crowd booed. "It's only a single voice. And not a very powerful voice."

He returned to reading aloud his own statements and recounting the resulting media coverage, which led to commenting on CNN's panels of "real lightweights," which led to him defending a surrogate who was fired by CNN earlier this month for tweeting the Nazi salute, "Sieg Heil!"

"And they fired Jeffrey Lord. Poor Jeffrey. Jeffrey Lord," Trump said. "I guess he was getting a little fed up, and he was probably fighting back a little bit too hard."

Without even taking a breath, Trump resumed reading a statement from Aug. 14 in which he condemned violence caused by "the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold true as Americans." That statement came two days after the violence in Charlottesville.

"So they were having a hard time with that one, because I said everything," Trump said, then flippantly launching into a laundry list of hate groups. "I hit 'em with neo-Nazi. I hit 'em with everything. I got the white supremacists, the neo-Nazi. I got them all in there. Let's see: KKK? We have KKK. I got 'em all."

Trump eventually wrapped up this defense by saying, in part: "The words were perfect."

Related: [Poll shows clear disapproval of how Trump responded to Charlottesville violence]

The president then tried to connect this lengthy self-examination to his supporters. Meanwhile, a growing number of them were calling it a night and heading to the exits.

"The media can attack me, but where I draw the line is when they attack you, which is what they do. When they attack the decency of our supporters," Trump said, without explaining what he meant. "You are honest, hard-working, taxpaying — and by the way, you're overtaxed, but we're going to get your taxes down."

Trump would return to taxes later — but first, he had to blame the media for "fomenting divisions" in the country, "trying to take away our history and our heritage" and "giving a platform to these hate groups." He called reporters "sick people" and "really, really dishonest" and accused them of turning "a blind eye" to gang violence, public school failures and "terrible, terrible trade deals."

"You would think they'd want to make our country great again, and I honestly believe they don't," he said. "I honestly believe it."

Trump took a brief detour into immigration, prompting him to ask the crowd: "By the way, I'm just curious. Do the people in this room like Sheriff Joe?"

The crowd burst into wild cheers, thinking that Trump was about to pardon Arpaio — something the press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had said just hours earlier would not happen that day.

"So, was Sheriff Joe convicted of doing his job?" Trump continued. "You know what? I'll make a prediction. I think he's going to be just fine, okay? But I won't do it tonight, because I don't want to cause any controversy. Is that okay?"

Back on his immigration talking points, Trump detailed a trip he made earlier that day to Yuma, Ariz., for a briefing on border security — and he casually threatened to "close down our government" to get funding for a wall along the southern border. He again called for getting rid of the filibuster rule requiring more than a simple majority — a change that congressional Republicans have said won't magically lead to the president's agenda passing. And he went after the state's two Republican senators without naming them.

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President Trump threatened to shut down the government over building his promised wall on the U.S.-Mexico border during a campaign rally in Phoenix on Aug. 22. (The Washington Post)

"They all said, 'Mr. President, your speech was so good last night. Please, please, Mr. President, don't mention any names,'" Trump said, referring to a Monday night speech about Afghanistan. "So I won't. I won't. No I won't … I will not mention any names. Very presidential, isn't' it? Very presidential."

Trump listed what he sees as accomplishments during his first seven months, including nominating a new Supreme Court justice and 31 federal judges.

"We've ended the war on beautiful, clean coal, and it's just been announced that a second, brand-new coal mine, where they're going to take out clean coal — meaning, they're taking out coal, they're going to clean it — is opening in the state of Pennsylvania," Trump said, completely misrepresenting what clean coal is.

Trump noted that West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice switched back to being a Republican after a brief stint as a Democrat, which somehow segued into his thoughts on the removal of Confederate statues from many cities.

"They're trying to take away our culture. They are trying to take away our history," Trump said. "And our weak leaders, they do it overnight. These things have been there for 150 years, for 100 years. You go back to a university, and it's gone. Weak, weak people."

His next sentence: "We are going to protect American industry. We are going to protect the American worker."

Trump apologized that it is taking so long to renegotiate NAFTA and commented that "we'll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point." He added for emphasis: "Probably." Trump talked about climate change, adding jobs to the private sector, decreasing the unemployment rate and getting rid of regulations.

He acknowledged that he has had to disband some of his business advisory board following protests of his reaction to Charlottesville — although he claimed that some of these business leaders will still meet with him privately.

"These people just don't get it. They are calling, and they're saying, 'How about getting together privately?' They like it better. Why should they be on a council?" Trump said. "You know, that's the way it is, folks. That's the way it is."

Trump finally got back to promising to pass tax legislation, along with a major infrastructure package, and called for Congress to help him with both.

"This is our moment. This is our chance," Trump said. "This is our opportunity to recapture our destiny like never before."

He ended the rally by declaring: "Thank you, Arizona. God bless you. Thank you. Thank you."

Those who still remained filed out of the convention center, stepping outside and into what at times felt like a war zone. Hundreds of protesters shouted: "Racists go home!" Police wearing riot helmets formed a line between the two groups. Further down the street, small clumps of supporters and protesters started heated debates, with each side holding up their smartphones to record the interaction. Police released pepper balls and made three arrests. A helicopter circled overhead as police warned that those who stayed in the area risked arrest.

"Oh boy. Oh Lord," said Kelly Coombs, a 42-year-old data administrator from Phoenix, as she stepped outside, holding a pink sign saying "Women for Trump" and trying to ignore the things yelled at her. "Here we go."

Protesters raise their hands after Phoenix police used tear gas outside the Phoenix Convention Center, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, in Phoenix. Protests were held against President Donald Trump as he hosted a rally inside the convention center. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Pro-Trump supporters face off with peace activists during protests outside a Donald Trump campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
Pro-Trump supporters face off with peace activists during protests outside a Donald Trump campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 22: A Phoenix police officer watches as a crowd protesters outside the Phoenix Convention Center hold up signs and chant anti-Trump slogans during a rally held by U.S. President Donald Trump on August 22, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images)
A demonstrator taunts Police officials after a Donald Trump campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Police use tear gas to break up protesters gathered outside of the Phoenix, Arizona, Convention Center where US President Donald Trump spoke at a "Make America Great Again" rally on August 22, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / LAURA SEGALL / ALTERNATIVE CROP LAURA SEGALL/AFP/Getty Images
Police officials lob tear gas to try and disperse demonstrators after a Donald Trump campaign rally in Phoenix, Arizona, U.S. August 22, 2017. REUTERS/Sandy Huffaker
PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 22: A demonstrator helps a man in a cloud of tear gas get up after collapsing as a line of police officers pepper spraying and tear gassing demonstrators advances following a rally by President Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center on August 22, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. An earlier statement by the president that he was considering a pardon for Joe Arpaio,, the former sheriff of Maricopa County who was convicted of criminal contempt of court for defying a court order in a case involving racial profiling, has angered Latinos and immigrant rights advocates. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
A protester receives aid after police used tear gas to break up protesters gathered outside of the Phoenix, Arizona, Convention Center where US President Donald Trump spoke at a "Make America Great Again" rally on August 22, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Laura SegallLAURA SEGALL/AFP/Getty Images
PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 22: People console a man who was pepper sprayed by police after a rally by President Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center on August 22, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. An earlier statement by the president that he was considering a pardon for Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County who was convicted of criminal contempt of court for defying a court order in a case involving racial profiling, has angered Latinos and immigrant rights advocates. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 22: A woman gives a peace sign to police officers in riot gear after a rally by President Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center on August 22, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. An earlier statement by the president that he was considering a pardon for Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County who was convicted of criminal contempt of court for defying a court order in a case involving racial profiling, has angered Latinos and immigrant rights advocates. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Police use tear gas to break up protesters gathered outside of the Phoenix, Arizona, Convention Center where US President Donald Trump spoke at a "Make America Great Again" rally on August 22, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Laura SegallLAURA SEGALL/AFP/Getty Images
PHOENIX, AZ - AUGUST 22: A demonstrator throws a canister back toward police after a rally by President Donald Trump at the Phoenix Convention Center on August 22, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. An earlier statement by the president that he was considering a pardon for Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County who was convicted of criminal contempt of court for defying a court order in a case involving racial profiling, has angered Latinos and immigrant rights advocates. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
Protesters leave the scene after Phoenix police used tear gas outside the Phoenix Convention Center, Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017, in Phoenix. Protests were held against President Donald Trump as he hosted a rally inside the convention center. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Protesters gather outside of Phoenix, Arizona, Convention Center where US President Donald Trump spoke at a "Make America Great Again" rally on August 22, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Laura SegallLAURA SEGALL/AFP/Getty Images
Photo Gallery: Protests were held against President Trump as he hosted a rally inside the Phoenix Convention Center in Arizona.

Jenna Johnson is a political reporter who covers the White House. She spent more than a year writing about Donald Trump's presidential campaign, traveling to 35 states to attend more than 170 political rallies and interview hundreds of Trump supporters.

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