INDIANAPOLIS — President Trump arrived Wednesday in Indiana on the heels of two blistering defeats this week — one on health care, one in an Alabama election — but he wanted to assure his supporters that everything is just fine.
The Senate’s failure this week to pass legislation repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act isn’t a major setback, Trump said. Nothing to worry about. It will be done early next year.
“I think we’ll actually get it through very easily, and the time makes it easier,” he said, expressing a minority view on the state of the health-care debate.
He then turned his attention to the tax plan he was here to sell, calling it “a once-in-a-generation opportunity” and “something you could say I’m very good at,” before telling the cheering crowd, “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”
But if this was Trump’s opportunity to turn a bad week for his presidency around, he seemed less enthusiastic than expected during the rest of the event, delivering one of the more staid performances of his tenure in a speech that incorporated a number of rhetorical tactics borrowed from the playbooks of more-traditional presidents.
And while the speech had no shortage of Trumpian superlatives — “great,” “terrific,” “colossal” and “tremendous, tremendous” — as well as its fair share of hyperbole, it lacked the energy that Trump has brought to many of his events.
As he walked through the various components of the GOP plan, Trump pointed to members of the audience, seated in neat rows of black folding chairs, and explained how provisions of the plan would affect them.
There was a janitor named Jonathan from nearby Greentown who, with his wife, is raising four children and makes less than $90,000 a year. Trump said the GOP plan would save him $1,000 a year.
Later he called out a farm family that would benefit from a provision calling for the end of the estate tax and a fence builder named John whose business, Trump said, would be more competitive under the GOP plan.
Trump used that as a departure to note plans for a new fence around the White House. Noting that he is “pretty good at construction,” Trump expressed disbelief at a cost estimate he had received of $50 million dollars.
“I kid you not,” Trump said, adding, “So John, do you think you can do it for slightly less?”
That, however, was one of relatively few times Trump veered too far from the remarks on his teleprompters, exhibiting less of a freewheeling style than is his norm, even at official government events.
Whether the more disciplined approach will last or serve Trump well in what promises to be a tough legislative battle remains to be seen.
The event was staged in the heartland, some 600 miles from Washington, in a state where Trump prevailed over Democrat Hillary Clinton last year 57 percent to 38 percent.
“It’s wonderful to be back in the great state of Indiana,” Trump said at the outset of his remarks. “What a place.”
Trump appeared in the Farm Bureau Building at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, but the room was set up in such a way that he could have been anywhere. He spoke in front of an American flag hanging on a blue curtain, flanked by six other flags.
Trump said he chose Indiana because the state — formerly led by his vice president, Mike Pence — was an example of one that had benefited from tax cuts.
“It’s time for Washington to learn from the wisdom of Indiana,” Trump said.
After Republicans failed at a go-it-alone approach on health care, Trump made a point Wednesday of appealing to Democrats on taxes.
He dwelled on the tax package pushed by Democrat John F. Kennedy, as well as one pushed by Republican Ronald Reagan, and said he is hopeful the new GOP plan will find favor with many Democrats.
“I know many of them, and they’re telling me it’s the right thing to do,” Trump said.
He brought with him on Air Force One one of those Democrats — Sen. Joe Donnelly of Indiana. During his remarks, Trump said he hoped Donnelly would be with him — and threatened to return to the Hoosier State to campaign against him if it turns out he’s not.
While aides have said Trump now plans to “focus like a laser beam” on pushing the tax plan, Wednesday also demonstrated how hard it can be for Trump to let things go.
On Wednesday morning, he tweeted that “we will have the votes” for health care — but not in time for senators to pass it under a special process that requires only 50 votes.
After Friday, Democrats would have the ability to filibuster another GOP-led attempt at a health-care overhaul. “Get rid of Filibuster Rule!” Trump urged on Twitter.
Leaving the White House en route here, Trump told reporters he expected a vote in January or February. “I’m almost certain we have the votes.” Of course, if Senate Republicans did have the votes, they would have put the bill on the floor this week.
He brought the issue up again here during his remarks, promising his audience, “Our health-care plan really is going to be something excellent.”
Also while leaving the White House on Wednesday, Trump couldn’t resist biting on a reporter’s question about the NFL, which he had been feuding with for six days over whether players should be allowed to take a knee during the national anthem.
“The NFL is in a very bad box,” Trump said Wednesday. “You cannot have people disrespecting our national anthem, our flag, our country, and that’s what they’re doing. And in my opinion the NFL has to change or you know what’s going to happen? Their business is going to go to hell.”
During his remarks, Trump also took a moment to reference the suffering in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. He is planning a visit there next week amid criticism that he has not been sufficiently focused on the devastation.
“We will be there every step of the way until this job is done,” Trump said here.
In the case of the Senate race in Alabama — another episode dogging Trump — he has since literally sought to erase the past.
On Tuesday night, after former state chief justice Roy Moore was declared the winner of the GOP runoff, Trump deleted several of his tweets urging supporters to vote for Sen. Luther Strange.
“Spoke to Roy Moore of Alabama last night for the first time,” Trump said on Twitter on Wednesday morning. “Sounds like a really great guy who ran a fantastic race.”