Ahead of President Trump’s appearance Monday at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, the troops were offered some advice on the gathering’s official blog: Fully hydrate. Be “courteous” and “kind.” And avoid the kind of divisive chants heard during the 2016 campaign such as “build the wall” and “lock her up.”
But from the moment he took the stage, Trump — who was never a Scout himself but touted his role as the “honorary president of the Boy Scouts of America” — started leading them down a very different path.
Over the next 35 minutes, the president threatened to fire one of his Cabinet members, attacked former president Barack Obama, dissed his former rival Hillary Clinton, marveled at the size of the crowd, warned the boys about the “fake media,” mocked pollsters and pundits, and said more people would say “Merry Christmas” under his presidency. He also told a rambling tale about a famous, now-deceased home builder that meandered from a Manhattan cocktail party to a yacht and then to places that the president would only allow the boys’ imaginations to go.
In response to a backlash following the speech, the Boy Scouts distanced itself Tuesday from Trump’s remarks. In a statement, the organization said it is “wholly non-partisan and does not promote any on position, product, service, political candidate or philosophy.” It added, without mentioning Trump’s name, that inviting “the sitting U.S. President” to visit the Jamboree is a long-standing tradition and “is in no way an endorsement of any political party or specific policies.”
The speech was, in fact, very much like the rally speeches that Trump gave across the country last year, although he sprinkled in some pieces of inspirational advice (“Do something you love”) and reflections on Boy Scout values (“We could really use some more loyalty, I will tell you that.”).
Trump was joined by former Scouts who serve in his Cabinet, including Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The latter wore a Scouting outfit for the occasion. “Ryan is an Eagle Scout from Big Sky country in Montana,” Trump relayed.
As the president’s speech continued, Perry appeared to grow bored as he stood behind Trump, chatting with others, flipping through a book and then filming a video of the crowd. Not invited on the adventure: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, an Eagle Scout whose day job appears in jeopardy in Washington.
Trump began the official address, delivered from a lectern with the presidential seal, by pledging to talk about things loftier than politics.
“Tonight we put aside all of the policy fights in Washington, D.C., you’ve been hearing about with the fake news,” the president told the crowd of Scouts and volunteers gathered in Glen Jean, W.Va. “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?”
But before long, Trump dived into the politics of the Republican health-care bill, which could die if it doesn’t clear a key procedural vote on Tuesday. Trump pointed to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who has been tasked with selling the legislation.
“Hopefully he’s going to get the votes tomorrow,” Trump said, emphasizing the importance of overhauling the Affordable Care Act, which he called “this horrible thing that’s really hurting us.”
As chants of “USA! USA!” broke out, Trump asked Price: “By the way, are you going to get the votes? You better get the votes. Otherwise, I’ll say, ‘Tom, you’re fired.’ ”
Trump also slipped in a reference to Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, one of the Republican holdouts on moving forward with the bill, which would leave up to 22 million fewer Americans with health insurance by 2026, according to estimates.
“You better get Senator Capito to vote for it,” the president told Price.
Seemingly returning to the teleprompters, Trump pivoted to another subject.
“Boy Scout values are American values,” the president said. “And great Boy Scouts become great, great Americans. As the Scout law says, a Scout is trustworthy, loyal – we could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that.”
It wasn’t clear what Trump was referencing. Perhaps it was fellow members of his party refusing to vote for health-care legislation. Perhaps it was Sessions, whom earlier in the day Trump had called “beleaguered” in a tweet. Trump harshly criticized Sessions last week for recusing himself from investigations involving Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The Boy Scouts then chanted the 10 other words that make up the Boy Scout Law: “Helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” On the stage behind Trump, Zinke and Perry stood at attention and held their right hands up in the Boy Scout salute. Trump smiled.
“Very good,” he told the boys. “Very good.”
At another point, Trump marveled at the more than 30,000 Scouts who had gathered for the Jamboree, although he acted as if they were there just for him and not for a regular event attended by seven other presidents.
“What do you think the chances are that this incredible, massive crowd, record-setting, is going to be shown on television tonight? One percent or zero,” Trump said as the Scouts yelled out answers and “CNN!” “The fake media will say . . . ‘President Trump spoke before a small crowd of Boy Scouts today.’ That is some crowd. Fake media! Fake news!”
As Trump told the Scouts that they should spend their adult years doing something that they love to do, someone in the crowd shouted that he loved the president.
“I love you, too,” Trump said, before jumping into a monologue on love between males. “I don’t know, it’s a nice guy. Hey, what am I going to do, he sounds like a nice person. He. He, he, he. Thank you. I do, I do love you.”
The boys laughed and then seemed to chant something that sounded like: “We love Trump! We love Trump!” Trump smiled and applauded them, then said: “By the way, just a question, did President Obama ever come to a Jamboree?”
“Nooooo!” the boys roared back in a sound that seemed to turn into booing, apparently not giving Obama credit for sending a video message to the 2010 Jamboree.
Before the gathering, the Scouts were told on the Jamboree’s blog that it would be inappropriate to behave as though they were at a campaign rally.
Such behavior, the blog said, “is considered divisive by many members of our audience and may cause unnecessary friction between individuals and units. . . . Please help us ensure that all Scouts can enjoy this historical address by making sure that your troop members are respectful not only of the president, but of the wide variety of viewpoints held by Scouts and Scouters in the audience tonight.”
Before departing, Trump took time to relive last year’s election, chiding Clinton for not working hard enough in several Midwestern states. He recalled the “massive” crowds he drew in Wisconsin, a state that a Republican presidential candidate hadn’t won in “many, many years.”
“Michigan came in — and we worked hard there. You know, my opponent didn’t work hard there. She was told she was going to win Michigan and I said, ‘Wait a minute, the car industry is going to move to Mexico.’ ”
“Boooo!” the boys roared.