Midway through the speech Tuesday night officially launching his 2020 reelection campaign, President Trump joked about his campaign staff. “They cost a fortune, and they never give me any ideas,” he said, adding that he was “kidding.”
Judging by his speech, it might be truer than he let on.
Trump broke little new ground in Orlando — not just relative to the dozens of political rallies he has held since his inauguration, but also relative to his 2016 campaign. It was very much a Greatest Hits rally, replete with grievances against the media and Democrats. It referred to Hillary Clinton more than Trump’s would-be 2020 opponents.
That said, there were a few interesting and newish lines that stuck out. Below are the ones I’ve isolated.
1. A Russia sanctions shout-out
For much of his presidency, Trump has been allergic to blaming Vladimir Putin for Russia’s 2016 election interference or even talking about said interference. But someone has apparently prevailed upon Trump to at least allude to the sanctions that were imposed on that country in response.
While hailing his achievements, Trump noted that he “built up the military, imposed sanctions on Russia” and supported countries that compete with Russia.
It was a brief, fleeting mention that he didn’t expound upon — nor did he refer to how much he resisted those sanctions, both when Congress passed them in 2017 and in response to the poisoning of Sergei Skripal in Britain. Trump also offered similar lines a couple of times last month.
If nothing else, though, it suggested that he and his campaign feel the need for him to argue he hasn’t given Russia a complete pass. Until recently, Trump basically relied upon everyone else around him to make that case.
2. Kavanaugh and judges
Perhaps one of the most long-lasting changes brought on by the Trump presidency is the remaking of the judiciary, both at the Supreme Court and in the lower courts.
And Trump made that a key element of his speech, both alluding to the large number of judges confirmed and speaking at some length about Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court.
Trump, of course, seized upon the grievance-related aspects of the Kavanaugh fight, accusing the justice’s opponents of trying to destroy his family. So even where Trump has a legitimate and extensive victory, it all comes back to how nefarious his opponents are.
3. ‘People who refuse to concede an election’
One conspicuous line that Trump didn’t dwell upon but seems likely to make a return is when Trump alluded to Democrats “who refuse to concede an election” and suggested they were sore losers.
Trump appeared to be referring to Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams (D), who has not conceded her loss to Gov. Brian Kemp (R) and has argued that minority votes were suppressed. Abrams has also said she still might run for president in 2020.
Left unsaid: Trump’s repeated threats during the 2016 election to not concede if he lost because of potential rampant voter fraud that hadn’t taken place. That’s not hugely different from the case Abrams has made.
4. The TBD slogan
Even as he was launching his 2020 campaign, Trump suggested he still hadn’t landed on a slogan. He called 2016′s “Make America Great Again” the “greatest theme in the history of politics,” but he also said it might be “Keep America Great.”
At one point, he invited the crowd to applaud for which slogan they thought he should run on. It wasn’t clear which one they preferred.
5. A new African American talking point
During his 2016 campaign, Trump appealed to would-be black supporters by arguing, “What the hell do you have to lose?” It didn’t earn him an unusual level of support for a GOP candidate.
Since then, he has pointed to a historically low black unemployment rate, and yet his approval rating among African Americans remains extremely low.
On Tuesday, though, Trump offered something somewhat new, pointing to the criminal justice overhaul bill that was passed through Congress with bipartisan support. He alluded to “crime policies that so unfairly affected the African American community — so unfair.”
The true target of the line, though, may not have been elusive black Republican voters. It seemed more likely it was the leading 2020 Democratic candidate, former vice president Joe Biden, whose support for President Bill Clinton’s crime bill has become a hot-button issue in the Democratic primary.