It's Raining in America
President Trump on Friday explained that a key error made in his Fourth of July speech, in which he suggested that the Revolutionary War Army "took over airports," was due to a faulty Teleprompter that made it difficult to "read in the rain."
It showed. As you would expect, his controversial decision to give a speech at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Independence Day was praised by his backers and panned by his critics. The address drew ovations from his faithful, and blistering reviews from detractors, many of whom found it a cliche-ridden journey through basic American history. "I could have gotten this off of watching Schoolhouse Rock," Retired Admiral John Kirby said on CNN.
Where the event went right was in the turnout, which may not have entirely stretched to the Washington Monument but it did appear that way from a distance. White House officials reportedly worried that Trump would give the address to a spotty crowd along the reflecting pool, but enough showed up to make for a substantial impression. Trump's team also pulled off the timing, syncing his speech with choral salutes and flyovers to honor the various branches of the military. Many saw this display of might as just a bit too close in feel to a Soviet-era parade, but the airshow was done with a degree of precision. Same too with the fireworks display later in the evening, generating a discharge of smoke so great that it registered on D.C.'s air quality index.
Where the speech went wrong is that it was so clearly a speech. Trump is not a good reader off the Teleprompter, rain or shine, and his "took over airports" error is most likely due to his attempt to stay on time and on script. That he didn't stray from the text made his remarks less politically inflammatory than one of his rallies, but his monotone delivery made the call for unity that much more rote.
With so many of attendees wearing red Make America Great Again hats and other Trump-inspired paraphernalia, and a number of anti-Trumpers out in force displaying baby Trump balloons, the National Mall was going to be a pageant of political divisions, anyway, no matter what Trump said or how he said it.
More effective may have been if Trump pre-taped a shorter message from the White House, as other presidents have done for the holiday, or to made some other kind of gesture toward resolving the current hyper-partisan discord.
It wouldn't have been the same Trump show, but it also would not have been what viewers saw: A president reading an address behind a rain-soaked protective glass, trying to stay on cue.