President Donald Trump went to a farm expo to celebrate his first 100 days in office by bathing in the support of his bedrock supporters, reprising the populist themes of his campaign and savaging a familiar foe: the news media.
In a rally timed to coincide with an annual dinner of the White House press corps in Washington, which he declined to attend, Mr Trump laced into what he referred to as “the failing New York Times“, as well as CNN and MSNBC, which he accused of incompetence and dishonesty.
“Their priorities are not my priorities, and not your priorities,” Mr Trump said to a sea of supporters, many in familiar red “Make America Great Again” caps. “If the media’s job is to be honest and tell the truth, the media deserves a very, very big fat failing grade,” he said, adding that they were “very dishonest people”.
Mr Trump revelled in his decision to skip the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner, describing a scene in which Hollywood stars and reporters consoled themselves in a Washington hotel ballroom, while he mixed with a better class of people in the American heartland.
The crowd responded with a chorus of boos and chants of “CNN sucks”, some turning to jeer reporters. Mr Trump was interrupted several times by protesters, who were escorted out of the arena by the police, under a rain of catcalls and shouts that recalled the most bitter days of the campaign.
Mr Trump saved some of his most colorful vitriol for The New York Times, lampooning its sale of its headquarters near Times Square – a “cathedral to journalism” – to move into a “very ugly office building in a very crummy location”. The new Times Tower, designed by the architect Renzo Piano, sits across the street from the Port Authority bus terminal on the West Side of Manhattan.
“They covered it so badly,” he said of the presidential campaign, “that they felt they were forced to apologise because their predictions were so bad.” The Times did not apologise for its election coverage.
After a turbulent debut in the White House, Mr Trump spent the past week celebrating the achievements of his first 100 days. But his rally on Saturday took on a darker hue, filled with anger and resentment. He touched on familiar themes of lawless immigrants, unfair trade deals and a corrupt Washington establishment.
Yet Mr Trump thoroughly reversed his hard line on another adversary: China. Citing the support of President Xi Jinping in pressuring the rogue government in North Korea, he said it would have been counterproductive to label the Chinese as currency manipulators.
“I don’t think right now is the best time to call China a currency manipulator,” Mr Trump said, adding that the news media had been wrong in saying that he had reversed a campaign promise on that issue.
To some extent, Mr Trump’s red-meat tone may have been a political necessity to shore up his base after a week in which he vacillated in budget negotiations with Congress on immediately financing the border wall. His wavering drew charges from conservative radio hosts that he was a flip-flopper.
The President’s attack on the news media started earlier in the day, when he said on Twitter that the “mainstream (FAKE) media refuses to state our long list of achievements, including 28 legislative signings, strong borders & great optimism!”.
For Mr Trump, the rally punctuated a week of frenetic, all-hands-on-deck self-promotion linked to the 100-day mark – a stocktaking milestone that he had earlier dismissed as artificial and a “ridiculous standard”.
On Friday, he taped a weekly radio address in which he declared, with a rare caveat, “I truly believe that the first 100 days of my administration has been just about the most successful in our country’s history”. He did not say which of his predecessors might have outdone him.
The choice of Pennsylvania for the rally and factory tour was predictable, given the state’s crucial role in propelling him past Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College. It seemed calculated to produce a reliable crowd rather than, for example, helping the White House turn wavering Republican votes in its effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
It also allowed Mr Trump to escape the capital on a sweltering day when thousands rallied to protest his policies on climate change. Marching past Mr Trump’s luxury hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, some carried placards that said, “100 Days of Destruction. Resist”.
Matthew Haag contributed reporting from New York.
– The New York Times