One of the ways in which presidents occupy their time between elections is by bopping around the country advocating for policies they want to pass or bragging about things they’ve done. For presidents seeking reelection, that can get tricky: Using White House resources to campaign is a no-no. So presidents often hold events touting their successes in politically important states but shy away from being explicit about what they’re doing.
Most presidents do that, anyway. President Trump just goes ahead and is explicit.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is “staging a comeback on Sleepy Joe,” Trump said at an official White House event in Pennsylvania on Tuesday, referring to former vice president Joe Biden and the race for the 2020 Democratic nomination. “I don’t know who’s going to win, but we’ll have to hit [Warren] very hard again if she does win. But she’s staging a little bit of a comeback.”
“What a group,” he continued, “Pocahontas” — a derogatory nickname he has given Warren — “and Sleepy Joe. I don’t think they give a damn about Western Pennsylvania, do you?”
If you don’t believe me, read the transcript yourself. It’s posted on the White House website, a bit of Trump 2020 rhetoric hosted on a Web server paid for by American tax dollars.
The ostensible reason for Trump’s speech in Monaca, Pa. (not “Monaco,” as the White House transcript has it) was to hype American energy and manufacturing. After walking through the speech, though, it’s clear that Trump’s actual intent was to hype Trump. We categorized every word he spoke into four groups: 2020 politics or self-promotion, discussion of the subject he was there to talk about, introductions of other people, and everything else. To give some perspective, we did the same for two other speeches from last month, one recognizing a historic milestone in Virginia and the other touting the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement in Wisconsin.
The lines weren’t always clear. When Trump is bragging about manufacturing returning to the United States, is that self-promotion or an on-subject riff? In the interests of transparency, we made a graphic — the one at the bottom of this article — showing how we broke out every section of the speech.
Overall, our analysis wasn’t terribly surprising. We estimate that Trump spent about twice as much time hyping his campaign and accomplishments in Pennsylvania as he did talking about energy and manufacturing. In Milwaukee, the division was a bit more even. In Virginia, though? He largely stuck to the script.
Why? Probably because of the audience. In Virginia — a state he lost in 2016 — he was speaking to other elected leaders at the commemoration of a moment in history. In Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — states he won, as he reminded the audience at each appearance — he was talking to crowds of workers and supporters.
Earlier this week, we looked at Trump’s robust catalogue of falsehoods, lies and exaggerations as president, finding that nearly 1 in 10 untrue things he has said were uttered at his campaign rallies.
Trump gets onstage with an appreciative crowd and a live mic and he just talks. He talks about what he wants to talk about and is as committed to accuracy as he is on Twitter. When he leaves the White House and heads to blue-collar country, that’s the Trump who shows up, rules about politicking on the government’s dime notwithstanding. (As we’ve reported, when Trump’s official events blur into political ones, the Republican Party or his campaign have to reimburse the government for part of the cost.)
Below, how we broke out each of the segments of Trump’s three speeches. You may disagree with where we drew some of the lines. Lines like the one about Warren and Biden, though? Hard to imagine categorizing them as anything other than politicking.
And hard to imagine his working them into that speech in Virginia.