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Trump performs a campaign kickoff with grim talk and self-celebration

President Donald Trump on Tuesday at the Amway

President Donald Trump on Tuesday at the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla. Photo Credit: AP/Evan Vucci

The plot thickens

The most audible adrenaline triggers in President Donald Trump's big kickoff speech in Orlando came down to this: THEY are illegally conspiring against "me" and "you."

In some ways it was a balance of pluses and minuses, hewing to the slogan "Keep America Great," as described by Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez. But he also called the next election "a verdict" on the "conduct of those who tried to undermine our great democracy and undermine you!" His partisan opponents, he said, are "trying to shred our Constitution and to rip our country apart."

Obamacare was "one of the worst things" the U.S. had to live through, and the Mueller probe was a plot to nullify his mandate in order to grab power. And there were other old hits: fake news, "acid-washed" Clinton emails, a Supreme Court nominee persecuted. Democrats want to populate the U.S. with illegal future immigrant voters. Plus the "Russia hoax," the "unholy alliance of lobbyists and special interests," a "cruel and heartless war on American energy." And the warning line: "The swamp is fighting back so viciously and violently!" Also, the Democratic Party has become "extreme and depraved" especially on border security, which is "the greatest betrayal of ... American life." They "savage" law enforcement and want "destruction of the American dream." And the party has destroyed inner cities, he charged.

"Democrat policies" are threatening school children by creating sanctuary cities with MS-13 members. And of course he referred to the "execution of babies after birth" while thumbing his nose at "Sleepy Joe" and "Crazy Bernie."

Friend or foe, nobody was calling it a unity speech.

But on the bright side ...

Trump brought departing press secretary Sarah Sanders onstage and called her a "warrior." She was met with chants of "Sarah! Sarah!" Earlier, first lady Melania Trump, resplendent in a yellow dress, introduced her husband. Donald Trump Jr. did a little speech, and Ivanka Trump was cheered. Vice President Mike Pence declared in a friendly upbeat way: "It's on, everybody. Time for Round 2. The 503-day campaign for American future starts tonight."

Trump and Pence hailed as accomplishments so far: a strong economy, moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, big defense-budget increases, conservative judges, defeat of ISIS, tax cuts and deregulation, protecting the Second Amendment. Trump spiced it up not just with conspiracy claims but more routine false and misleading remarks.

Bordering on doubtful

Proving a negative may be impossible. But several times, when Trump announced impending dramatic action in the border crisis, the follow-through wasn't quite evident. This included tariffs on all Mexican goods, the closing of the whole border, "emergency" wall construction, and armed-forces mobilizations.

The impact of these plans or threats, if any, remains hard to parse.

Which of course is not to say that nothing Trump announces will happen.

On Monday night, the eve of his big campaign kickoff in Florida, Trump tweeted that “next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States."

Suspiciously, however, big enforcement operations in this and prior administrations are typically kept confidential to avoid tipping off the targets. Last year, the administration even erupted with threats against the mayor of Oakland, California, for warning residents of an impending crackdown. 

Nearly a full day after Trump's tweet, details and explanations were still awaited. Not nonexistent, necessarily, but still to be seen, perhaps in the next few days.

Trump: Iran offenses 'minor'

One hint that Trump isn't ready to use force or react quickly to Iran's alleged oil-tanker attacks came in an interview with Time magazine.

“So far, it’s been very minor," he said of these and other recent incidents.

Iran, meanwhile, seems to be working Russia and China for support. On Tuesday, China warned against opening a "Pandora's box" after deployment of 1,000 additional American troops to the region was announced.

Back to the table, empty or full

Trump said he and President Xi Jinping of China will have an extended talk at the G-20 meeting in Japan next week, "Our respective teams will begin talks prior to our meeting," he tweeted.

Stocks jumped as a result. But there was no immediate sign of how a top-level meeting could relieve strains resulting from a tit-for-tat tariff exchange between the two nations. And well in advance of Trump's announcement, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross was downplaying expectations that a substantial deal could surface.

Shanahan shelved

Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan has withdrawn from the confirmation process for the permanent post. Accounts of family violence, about which Shanahan spoke to The Washington Post, preceded the move. Army Secretary Mark Esper, a former Raytheon lobbyist, is replacing Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, as acting defense secretary. Trump tweeted: "I know Mark, and I have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!"

Shanahan becomes the latest key Trump pick to drop out. Still others left under duress after being confirmed. The top Pentagon position has been without a confirmed nominee since December when James Mattis quit, citing key differences with the president.

What else is happening:

  • The billionaire Mercers of Suffolk County have abandoned their big financial support for Trump, with sources telling Vanity Fair that they are disillusioned with their political efforts, online and otherwise.
  • Trump declined again to apologize for his past death-penalty calls for the so-called Central Park Five who were convicted in a gang attack on a jogger but later cleared on DNA evidence. His opaque "both sides" answer to a question about it Tuesday is quoted here.
  • The White House explored the legality of demoting Fed Chairman Jerome Powell in February as the president made noise about firing him, it was revealed.
  • Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is selling off his country’s gold reserves, some of it via Africa, in a gambit that evades U.S. sanctions, The Wall Street Journal reported.
  • The U.S. Navy ship Comfort is beginning a five-month humanitarian mission to the Caribbean, Central and South America to support medical systems strained in part by an increase in Venezuela refugees.
  • Biden has been hauling in funds in New York, and one attendee was ex-Sen. Alfonse D'Amato.

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