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Assault on America, Day 541: ‘Preacher’ Trump should take a page from 2016, pack substance

Trump Tulsa rally
Trump is a great “preacher” president but he needs to do more than speak to the choir

Preaching to the choir.

We all do it in one form or another, congregate with people of like mind and worldview and tell them what they want to hear. According to the Urban Dictionary, “Preaching to the choir means you are trying to make believers out of people who already believe, or convince people who are already convinced.” The term conjures up mental images of a pastor behind a pulpit gesturing towards the heavens with those in the fully manned (and women-ed?) choir loft nodding along and then perfunctorily following each dramatic pause with a chorus of “Amen-s!”

Folks attend religious services for a number of reasons; certainly one of them is affirmation that God is up there keeping an eye on us and guiding his people in whatever manner he chooses. The clergy are merely there to interpret and analyze the holy texts and put them in a proper contemporary context. “Amen!” Effective preaching is hard, but then again, the flock likely agrees with everything that’s said one way or another.

Not always so in politics, though partisan rallies are purposely devised to appeal to the most devoted in any candidacy. They’re not intended to offer something for everyone, though if you’re a presidential candidate, you need to make sure you touch on all the major themes to motivate attendees to cheer, contribute and then be juiced to go out and work like crazy to ensure victory on Election Day.

President Trump held his first post-coronavirus lockdown rally last Saturday night. Supporters listened, clapped, cheered and had as great a time listening to the president talk as the speaker did in moving around the dais and connecting with the audience. It was vintage Trump -- but not every backer was happy with the address’s tone and content.

Cal Thomas wrote at The Washington Times, “I was embarrassed for him and for his smaller-than-predicted audience, which worshipfully, but I sensed a little less enthusiastically, applauded. Yes, many of those ‘one million’ ticket requesters (according to the Trump campaign) were probably reluctant to show up because of what some consider nonstop media scare tactics about the coronavirus and the dire warnings from health officials about mass gatherings. Another factor may have been the president’s predictability. We’ve heard versions of this speech before.

“How many more times must we hear about his jaw-boning Boeing into lowering the price for two new presidential jets? Don’t we know about the other stuff, too, such as closing the borders to travelers from China? And why the racial slur about the ‘Kung Flu virus?’ Did he think that cute?

“A president running for a second term must stake out his vision for the next four years. Other than a list of ‘twenty-five’ judges from which he promises to choose for federal benches, including the U.S. Supreme Court, there was nothing in his remarks about what he would accomplish in a second term.”

Ouch. For regular readers of Thomas’s columns, we know he’s no liberal. His observations are straight-forward and his suggestions are sincere. Last week, prior to the rally, Thomas penned a piece offering advice to the president as to what he’d hoped to hear from the upcoming highly anticipated campaign event. The longtime conservative writer thought Trump should use the time and occasion to extend a healing hand to a nation rocked by racial divisions and present solutions that could conceivably lead to some sort of reconciliation.

It’s impossible to tell whether the message actually reached Trump himself, though there was precious little that Thomas advocated for (including an alliance between white and black evangelical churches headed by Ben Carson) that found its way into the GOP nominee’s presentation. Rather than offering an olive branch to his detractors, Trump lit a fire and then piled on a cord’s worth of fuel to fan it into a blazing rhetorical inferno. The crowd loved it, but again, was this just a case of preaching to the choir?

Thomas didn’t get what he wanted. From the opening few words, Trump was clearly in no mood to soothe anyone. Instead, the Republican delivered a fairly typical -- for these days at least -- presentation that echoed many of his earlier appearances. I commented on Monday that it was as though the campaign trail had never been interrupted by the coronavirus panic and then the coast-to-coast social unrest spurred by the death of George Floyd but then morphed into a massive #BlackLivesMatter campaign commercial for Grampa Joe Biden, complete with copious amounts of monument and historical marker desecration and demolition.

Afterwards, liberal pundits had a field day pointing out that in his hour-and-forty-five-minute presentation, Trump neither mentioned George Floyd nor the tragic Tulsa race riots that destroyed large swaths of the city 99 years ago. They treated it as though it was obligatory to nod to the race-is-everything crowd that dominates every political and non-political discussion these days. Just because the president didn’t oblige them on what they thought he should say doesn’t mean his missive was ill-conceived or wrong.

The content leaned heavily on law and order, which was what the “choir” wanted to hear. All in all, it was an effective speech and Trump gave most people what they came for. But does Thomas have a point? Trump didn’t win any new voters last Saturday night. It was the type of speech many political watchers predicted, heavy on Trump’s strong suits -- direct language, stinging critiques of “Sleepy” Joe Biden, praise for his presidential record -- but a bit light on the lofty so-called “presidential” ideas that might appeal to voters who aren’t already in the candidate’s corner (choir loft?). There were numerous direct confrontations with the media. It’s standard boilerplate Trump.

After having thought about it for a few days, the Tulsa speech could’ve been better. As Thomas noted, Trump did spend far too much time and energy talking about his recent appearance at West Point while meticulously debunking the media’s gleeful speculation that he’d come down with Parkinson’s or some other debilitating disease. The topic needed to be addressed, but more concentration on the types of subjects Thomas proposed would’ve been welcomed as well.

Trump made several special policy speeches in 2016 where he laid out detailed proposals. The speeches weren’t rallies, but they helped dispel the media-created stereotype of Trump being a principle-free entertainer who was just running for president to increase his own fame and stature as an American cultural legend. Similar unfounded accusations followed Ronald Reagan forty years ago until the one time actor proved he was more than up to the task in the policy realm.

The 45th president could stand to emulate Reagan in this regard. Trump’s policy proposals were well-regarded four years ago and, at the very least, demonstrated that he could hold his own on a debate stage with career politicians who pride themselves on having memorized microscopic details on legislation that cropped up years or decades ago. If you want an example of the type, listen to Grampa Joe drone on about some bill he’d worked on in the 70’s addressing the need for more advanced dog catching techniques (not real, but sounds like it could be, right?).

To inject a healthy dose more content into his campaign stops will not only satiate the Cal Thomas’s of the world, but also provide more of a foundation for independent voters to choose him in November. Trump fans loved chanting “Lock her up!” in 2016 whenever Trump drew distinctions between himself and Hillary Clinton. But packaged in between the fun and airy campaign stuff was serious substance about ending foreign military ventures, evening out trade imbalances, promoting American industry and finally doing something about illegal immigration. There was also the promise to fill the Supreme Court vacancy with a judge in Antonin Scalia’s mold.

It was anti-establishment to the nth degree, and it spoke to the people.

These are the reasons why Trump overcame enormous obstacles to win in November. It wasn’t just because his rallies were loads of fun and he could punch back at the snobby swamp ruling elites better than any Republican in history. The outsider candidate was new and refreshing but it was more than a personality contest. Democrats win when substantive discussion of policies are pushed to the background -- it gives them all the more opportunity to talk about racism and division and “this isn’t who we are,” and Trump is the worst president since… well, ever.

Could Trump fashion his rally speeches after the State of the Union?

Trump should start making his campaign speeches into mini-State of the Union addresses. It seems like a century ago now, but this year’s SOTU speech was incredible. Remember how Nancy Pelosi ripped up the text after he finished? Perhaps invite more guests (Trump does this already and refers to them in his rallies, but it’s not quite the same as the annual speech to Congress).

The difference between now and four years ago is Trump is…the president and not just a first-time candidate seeking the highest office in the world. There are lots of accomplishments to talk about as well as a need, as Thomas opined, to lay the groundwork for how a Trump second term would be different than his first. “More of the same but better” is great for the choir, but Trump must set a distinction for those who desperately seek reasons to not make a change in the midst of the worst social disturbances since 1968.

Everyone knows Grampa Joe Biden is basically just a shell of a politician who spouts nothing but platitudes and distortions about how America is a racist country and he’s the only one who could possibly heal it. Then he lays on a thick coat of bluster about income redistribution and “creating an economy that works for everyone,” followed by a long list of government programs the country doesn’t want -- the Green New Deal -- and cannot afford.

How would Biden deal with the historic statue destruction? Would he impose prison time (like Trump did) for anyone defacing or wrecking public property?

Elections are always about the future. As amply demonstrated by Trump’s Tulsa rally, the president is proud of his past. Here’s hoping his next rally speech will be a bit more substantive. Call it the fixins’ in addition to the standard red meat. Feed more than the choir, Mr. President.

Out of control spending MUST be addressed by the political class

It isn’t necessarily an election-winning subject, but federal spending must be part of every political discussion, particularly now that Congress is out-of-control. Instead of rehashing themes of old, Trump could make headway with independents by tossing out ideas on how he intends to halt the federal debt train before it reaches the can’t-go-back cliff.

Stephen Moore wrote the other day at CNS News, “[T]he White House thinks that more debt spending by Uncle Sam will be a ‘stimulus’ to the economy and will help President Donald Trump win reelection. The administration has put out the word that another $2 trillion phase-four package with aid to states, payments to individuals, and infrastructure spending — a ‘compromise’ — is in the works. It is a prosperity-killing redistribution scheme, not an economic revival plan, Mr. President…

“All we are doing here is ‘stimulating’ the government and crowding out private spending and investment. Policies such as paying millions of people (more than 60 percent of workers, according to the Congressional Budget Office) more money to stay unemployed than to go back to work, and paying states more money to enable them to remain shut down, will inhibit the fast recovery we want in jobs and incomes, not stimulate it.”

Herein lies the problem. Trump can’t dwell too much on debt because it threatens to crowd out the good news about the recovering economy and the prospect of getting people back to work. But over-promising more “stimulus” money is a ticket to financial ruin.

In tough times, people want to hear the hard facts and plan for the future. With vandals tearing down statues and many businesses still shuttered due to coronavirus restrictions, Americans want to know that there is a future. The “choir” will go along with the notion of tough love, won’t it?

President Trump is one of the most talented politicians of the modern age, yet even he could stand to alter his approach to politics from time to time. Elections are always about the future and at his next rally, Trump would do well to talk a lot more about what he intends to do in his second term, something that would reassure more than his already dedicated fans.

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