Media seized on President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress as an opportunity for him to “pivot” or “reset” his administration. This canard that he would at some point change course was repeated throughout the presidential campaign, yet any shifts that occurred were always short-lived.
Trump Makes Address To Joint Session Of Congress
AP: Trump Made “An Appeal To American Optimism” In His First Address To Congress. President Donald Trump made “an appeal to American optimism” when he addressed a joint session of Congress for the first time on February 28, The Associated Press (AP) reported, adding that Trump “embraced the pomp and tradition of a presidential address to Congress.” From the report:
Heralding a “new chapter of American greatness,” President Donald Trump issued a broad call for overhauling the nation's health care system and significantly boosting military spending Tuesday night, swapping his trademark pugnaciousness and personal insults for a more restrained tone as he addressed Congress for the first time.
In an appeal to American optimism, Trump declared, “The time for small thinking is over.” Still, he employed dark language to describe the threat posed by “radical Islamic terrorism” — a term his own national security adviser rejects as inflammatory — and warned against “reckless” and “uncontrolled entry” of refugees and immigrants from countries with ties to extremist groups.
In an hour-long address, Trump defended his early actions in office and ignored the missteps that have set even his allies in Washington on edge. He outlined a populist agenda centered on promises to compel companies to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. He was unusually measured and embraced the pomp and tradition of a presidential address to Congress. [The Associated Press, 2/28/17]
Media Have Repeatedly Fantasized About A Trump Pivot
Media Claimed Trump’s Non-Apology To Clinton Was A “Pivot.” In August, media characterized Trump’s expression of “regret” for some of his past rhetoric as a “pivot” and a “new tone” for the then-Republican nominee. Fox & Friends claimed that Trump had “completed his pivot to the general election,” while MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough asserted that Trump showed “a complete reversal of just about everything he’s been.” Additionally, ABC’s David Muir suggested that Trump was “striking a bit of a new tone.” [Media Matters, 8/19/16]
Media Lauded Trump’s Decision To Fire His Campaign Manager As “A Good Pivot.” In June, media figures praised Trump for his decision to fire his then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski as a “pivot.” MSNBC’s Mark Halperin suggested the move was Trump’s attempt to “turn the page” to run a “traditional campaign.” The Weekly Standard’s Steve Hayes claimed that Trump had “reset” his campaign and was “about to get serious.” [Media Matters, 6/24/16]
Media Praised Trump’s Reaction To The Orlando Shooting As “More Presidential.” Media figures praised Trump’s comments following the June shooting at a nightclub in Orlando, FL. CNN’s John King claimed that Trump sounded “more presidential.” Fox contributor Susan Estrich asserted that “Trump is now behaving like general election nominees behave.” [Media Matters, 6/24/16]
Media Said Trump Sounded “More Presidential” After He Used A Teleprompter. Media figures lauded Trump in early June for using a teleprompter. Fox’s Megyn Kelly said that the speech showed “the more presidential” Trump, adding that he was “a very different-sounding man.” Fox’s Brian Kilmeade praised Trump, saying he “sounded more presidential than ever.” [Media Matters, 6/24/16]
Ahead Of Address, Media Set The Stage For A Trump “Pivot”
CNN Chyron: President Trump’s Speech Is A “Chance To Reset After Chaotic Start.”
[CNN, CNN Newsroom, 2/28/17]
CNN’s David Axelrod: Trump Can “Try And Reset The Narrative.” CNN senior political commentator David Axelrod claimed that Trump’s speech “is a chance for him to try and reset the narrative, to shift it from chaos to accomplishment.” From the February 28 edition of CNN’s At This Hour:
KATE BOLDUAN (HOST): So if this is a chance for the president after a rocky start to his presidency to reset, can he do it in one speech?
DAVID AXELROD: Well, look, you’re going to have a huge audience. There's nothing like a speech to a joint session of Congress, because it commands tens and tens and tens of millions of Americans. And so it is a chance for him to try and reset the narrative, to shift it from chaos to accomplishment. And he seems intent on that theme. You can hear it in the interviews that he’s done. [CNN, At This Hour, 2/28/17]
CNN’s Chris Cuomo: Trump Has “A Chance To Reset.” CNN host Chris Cuomo asserted that Trump’s speech is “a chance for him to reset, put out his vision,” and “be positive.” From the February 28 edition of CNN’s New Day:
CHRIS CUOMO (HOST): So this is a huge night for the president. First address to a joint session of Congress, a chance to reset, put out his vision, be positive. [CNN, New Day, 2/28/17]
Fox’s Chris Stirewalt: “This Speech Marks The Pivot Moment.” Fox politics editor Chris Stirewalt suggested that Trump’s “speech marks the pivot moment where either he learns how to be president … or this stays a soap opera.” From the February 28 edition of Fox News’ America’s Newsroom:
CHRIS STIREWALT: This speech marks the pivot moment where either he learns how to be president, learns to be good at it, can lay this stuff out, or this stays a soap opera. [Fox News, America’s Newsroom, 2/28/17]
Fox’s Jenna Lee: Trump’s Speech Could Be “A Little Bit Of A Reset.” Fox News host Jenna Lee claimed that Trump’s speech could be “where there is a little bit of a reset.” From the February 27 edition of Fox News’ Happening Now:
JENNA LEE (HOST): That kind of emphasizes why tomorrow night is so important. Here we’ve had the first 40 or so days of the Trump presidency, there is going to be this big address, a joint session of Congress. Some could suggest this is where there is a little bit of a reset, where the president has the stage, if you will, and he can set the agenda for the next 40 days and the next four years. [Fox News, Happening Now, 2/27/17]
Media Confirm Their Pivot Hypothesis After The Speech
NPR: “Trump Pushed The Reset Button.” NPR’s Jessica Taylor wrote that Trump “pushed the reset button after a rocky first month in office” in his “on-message” speech. From the February 28 NPR report:
President Trump pushed the reset button after a rocky first month in office, delivering an on-message joint address to Congress that outlined an optimistic vision for America.
It was a remarkably different tone than the president's usual speeches, including his inaugural address when he promised to stop “American carnage” and painted a gloomy view of the country. There were no campaign-like riffs, no boasting of his electoral victory, no bashing of the media or taunts or jeers at his opponents. [NPR, 2/28/17]
ABC’s Martha Raddatz: “Not Only Was He More Presidential, He Was A Politician.” During ABC’s post-speech coverage, ABC News reporter Martha Raddatz said:
MARTHA RADDATZ: You know what I saw tonight with Donald Trump? Not only was he more presidential, he was a politician. That was a dirty word to Donald Trump, it was a dirty word to a lot of his supporters, but tonight, he was a politician. He reached out to both sides, he reached out to Democrats, he reached out to Republicans, he reached out to people who may not have supported him. We'll see how long that lasts, the news cycle with Donald Trump is so rapid, we may be talking about something else tomorrow. [ABC, Coverage Of President Trump’s Joint Address To Congress, 2/28/17]
CNN’s Van Jones: Tonight, Trump “Became President Of The United States.” CNN political commentator Van Jones lauded Trump for paying homage to fallen Navy SEAL William Ryan Owens, saying that Trump’s shoutout to Owens was the moment Trump “became president of the United States, period.” Jones add that “people who have been hoping that he would become unifying, hoping that he might find some way to become presidential, they should be happy with that moment.” From the February 28 edition of CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360:
ANDERSON COOPER (HOST): Truly an extraordinary moment, Carryn Owens there. William Ryan Owens was her husband. Van, you were saying while you were watching that, about the significance of that moment.
VAN JONES: He became president of the United States in that moment. Period. There are a lot of people who have a lot of reason to be frustrated with him, to be fearful of him, to be mad at him. But that was one of the most extraordinary moments you have ever seen in American politics, period. And he did something extraordinary, and for people who have been hoping that he would become unifying, hoping that he might find some way to become presidential, they should be happy with that moment. For people who have been hoping that he would remain a divisive cartoon, which he often finds a way to do, they should begin to become a little bit worried tonight. Because that thing you just saw him do, if he finds way to do that over and over again, he's going to be there for eight years. Now, there is a lot that he said in that speech that was counter-factual, that was not right, and that I oppose and will oppose. But he did something tonight that you cannot take away from him -- he became president of the United States. [CNN, Anderson Cooper 360, 2/28/17]
CBS’ Gayle King: For “The First Time I’m Hearing People Say He Looked And Sounded Presidential.” CBS host Gayle King lauded Trump, saying that “for the first time I’m hearing people say he looked and sounded presidential.” From CBS’ post-speech coverage:
GAYLE KING: You’re hearing people say it’s been 40 days and 40 nights since he’s been in the White House, and dare we say that for the first time I’m hearing people say he looked and sounded presidential. I thought even his delivery was very different. For the first time, we saw a little bit of a chink in the armor tonight, because when he said “I’m going to repeal and replace Obamacare,” we saw the women, the Democratic women were dressed in white, give the thumbs down. But for the most part, he seemed to have support from at least his base in that room this evening. [CBS, Coverage Of President Trump’s Joint Address To Congress, 2/28/17]
ABC’s Alex Castellanos: “We Saw The Long-Awaited Pivot.” ABC News political commentator Alex Castellanos praised Trump, suggesting that “we saw the long-awaited pivot” during the speech and adding that “what we saw is Donald Trump evolved from candidate to president.” From ABC’s post-speech coverage:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (HOST): Did Republicans here in Congress hear what they needed to hear tonight?
ALEX CASTELLANOS: I think Republicans did, and I think it'll have a good impact on Democrats too. Donald Trump may have been inaugurated on January the 20, but I think he became president tonight. I think we saw the long-awaited pivot. Not a change of positions, but what we saw is Donald Trump evolved from candidate to president, from politics to governing, from talking about divisive issues to leading America into the future. That’s going to reassure Republicans in Congress, and I think it’s going to make it much more difficult for Democrats to attack him. [ABC, Coverage Of President Trump’s Joint Address To Congress, 2/28/17]
Politico: Trump “Hits The Reset Button” During His Speech.
— POLITICO (@politico) March 1, 2017
Wash. Post’s Chris Cillizza: “This Is Trump At His Absolute Best So Far.”
This is Trump at his absolute best so far. VERY nice grace note about our shared humanity to start speech.
— Chris Cillizza (@TheFix) March 1, 2017
FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten: Trump’s Speech Was The Biggest ‘Pivot’ Moment” Of His Presidency.
This speech has been mostly, if not completely, traditional. Biggest “pivot” moment of Trump's presidency I'd argue.
— (((Harry Enten))) (@ForecasterEnten) March 1, 2017
ABC’s Jonathan Karl: “This Is @realDonaldTrump At His Most Presidential -- His Most Effective Speech Yet.”
This is @realDonaldTrump at his most presidential -- his most effective speech yet
— Jonathan Karl (@jonkarl) March 1, 2017
Wash. Post’s Marc Thiessen: Trump “Pivoted From @realDonaldTrump To @POTUS.”
— Marc Thiessen (@marcthiessen) March 1, 2017
CNN’s Mary Katharine Ham: “This Is For Reals Pivot Speech We Were Looking For In ‘16.”
There's plenty in here sounds like too much $$$/govt for me, but this is for reals pivot speech we were looking for in '16. #Jointsession
— Mary Katharine Ham (@mkhammer) March 1, 2017
Media Ignore Trump’s Recent Unpresidential Antics
Trump Blamed Navy SEAL’s Death In Raid He Ordered On Generals Who Briefed Him On The Mission. The Military Times reported that Trump “appeared to blame his military leaders for a Navy SEAL's death last month during a troubled raid in Yemen, saying ‘they’ pushed elite sailor into a dangerous mission”:
In a television interview, President Donald Trump appeared to blame his military leaders for a Navy SEAL's death last month during a troubled raid in Yemen, saying “they” pushed elite sailor into a dangerous mission.
“This was something they wanted to do,” he said. “They came to me, they explained what they wanted to do, the generals, who are very respected, the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.” [Military Times, 2/28/17]
Trump Attacked A Jewish Reporter Who Asked What Federal Government Will Do To Project Jews. During a press conference Trump held on February 16, he called a Jewish reporter a liar after the reporter asked what the federal government would do to address rising anti-Semitism in the nation. Trump then claimed his political opponents were generating some of the anti-Semitism: “Some of it is written by our opponents. You do know that? Do you understand that? You don't think anybody would do a thing like that?” [CNN.com, 2/16/17]
Trump Suggested Bomb Threats To Jewish Community Centers Were False Flags. Trump reportedly suggested that a recent spate of bomb threats and vandalism at “Jewish community centers and cemeteries across the country might be false flags.” The Washington Post reported that according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro, Trump said of the bomb threats and the people may be committing them, “‘Sometimes it’s the reverse, to make people -- or to make others -- look bad.’” From the article:
President Trump seemed to suggest Tuesday that the recent bomb threats and vandalism at Jewish community centers and cemeteries across the country might be false flags, according to a Democratic attorney general who met with him. And Trump’s comments came the same day that one of his top advisers suggested the culprits could be Democrats.
It wouldn’t be the first time Trump went down this road.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) told reporters Tuesday that Trump expressed horror at the situation but also appeared to suggest it might not be anti-Semitism and that it could be “the reverse,” The Post's Mark Berman confirmed.
Shapiro told BuzzFeed: “He just said, ‘Sometimes it’s the reverse, to make people — or to make others — look bad,’ and he used the word ‘reverse’ I would say two to three times in his comments. He did correctly say at the top that it was reprehensible.” [The Washington Post, 2/28/17]