ATLANTA — President Trump entered 2018 much as he left 2017: talking to his core supporters about 2016.
To a largely adoring crowd of farmers in Tennessee’s capital, Trump crowed about winning 306 votes in the electoral college, bragged about his accomplishments and cast himself as the leader of a movement restoring respect for the national anthem, the American flag and the forgotten man — and as a politician still very much on the campaign trail.
“Oh, are you happy you voted for me. You are so lucky I gave you that privilege,” Trump said to the Nashville crowd, in an unusual explanation of public service.
Back in Washington, Trump’s White House has faced damaging revelations from a new tell-all book that paints the president and his administration in a deeply unflattering light. He is dealing with news that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III may want to interview him. His White House is grappling with the recriminations of a nasty split with former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon after his comments slamming the Trump children and the president. Trump’s poll numbers remain below 40 percent in most surveys.
On Air Force One over Kentucky, Trump spokesman Hogan Gidley parried a number of uncomfortable questions: Would the president sit for a psychiatric exam during his physical next week? No. He is “sharp as a tack,” Gidley said. “And brilliant.”
Was Trump growing lazy and watching television until 11 a.m., as the website Axios reported Sunday night, while deeming it “executive time?” Gidley said that the question was “ludicrous” and that the president has a “yeoman” work ethic.
Asked about claims by CNN officials that senior Trump aide Stephen Miller was escorted out of their set Sunday after a contentious on-screen exchange with host Jake Tapper, Gidley said, “He left on his own will.”
The spokesman did not offer a response when asked if the president would sit down with Mueller for an interview, a possibility reported by NBC News and others.
Gidley seemed sure of one thing: Trump was “absolutely” running for reelection. And he was going to win, even if Oprah Winfrey entered the race.
The day seemed part base-boosting and part pleasure for the president, who loves sports and often peppers his appearances with references to football. Hours after his Nashville speech, he arrived at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta for the college football championship game, where enthusiastic supporters of Alabama and Georgia — the two teams facing off — greeted him fervently, though the cheers were later followed by a surprisingly loud chorus of boos.
The president stood stoic in the glow of a large spotlight near the 50-yard line, mouthing some of the words of the national anthem with his hand over his heart, after striding into the packed stadium. He was spotted later watching the game near ROTC officers in a private box near the 40-yard line.
In Nashville, he sang many of his favorite notes. He revived his criticism of athletes who do not stand during the national anthem, which did not appear to be an issue at the evening’s game since the players were still in the locker room when it was played.
“We want our flag respected,” Trump told the annual gathering of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “We want our national anthem respected also.”
“There’s plenty of space for people to express their views and to protest, but we love our flag and we love our anthem, and we want to keep it that way,” he said.
His agriculture secretary, Sonny Perdue, added another favorite line, even as the calendar read Jan. 8. “It’s okay once again to say Merry Christmas,” he said.
Trump promised farmers a bill with crop insurance after they cheered for him. He said that had the cheers not come, he might have proposed a bill without insurance. He crowed about the rise of the stock market — the Dow Jones industrial average is now above 25,000 — and took credit. Without evidence, he told the farmers that Democrats wanted to raise their taxes by 50 percent or more and double regulations.
He sidestepped the dicey issue of the North American Free Trade Agreement, a popular pact even among farmers who like him. The president has privately threatened to pull out of the treaty but said Monday that he was still renegotiating it.
Trump also didn’t mention Iran; he must decide whether to waive sanctions by Friday.
He was accompanied on the trip by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who once likened the White House to “adult day care” but seemed to grin Monday and even came on stage with Trump.
The president vowed to curb immigration and “build the wall,” even though it is unclear when and how that will happen. Trump is expected to visit the border near San Diego within a month.
Much as he has done at his rallies, Trump explained his record in ways that glossed over some of his legislative failures and management challenges in the White House. Instead, he trumpeted the rising economy and his administration’s wide-ranging effort to remove regulations. He heaped praise on Andrew Jackson, a controversial president Trump likens himself to.
Trump seemed happier away from the glare of Washington, where questions about his mental state have grown in recent days.
“Make sure you look up @realdonaldtrump,” he cracked, adding that he assumes his audience already follows him on Twitter.
“It’s our only way around the media. Fake media,” he said, pointing to the cameras in the back.
Trump also read the names of elected officials who were there to support him. He then tossed the paper in the air. “I did my job,” he said.
Gearan reported from Washington. Karoun Demirjian in Washington contributed to this report.