Ever a Showman, Donald Trump Keeps Washington Guessing
WASHINGTON — The speech was written, the rollout strategy was set. And then President Trump began talking and the plan went out the window. Unless that was the plan all along.
When Mr. Trump sat down with television anchors at the White House for an off-the-record lunch on Tuesday, he was supposed to preview his first address to Congress. Instead, he suddenly opened the door to an immigration bill that would potentially let millions of undocumented immigrants stay in the country legally.
Such legislation from the “build the wall” president would roil politics in the capital, and Mr. Trump told the anchors that nothing like that was actually in the speech as it was then drafted. But he turned to aides and suggested that maybe they should include it. After the lunch was over, aides rushed off to alert their colleagues, including Stephen K. Bannon and Stephen Miller, the architects of the president’s immigration crackdown.
从这位“修墙”总统嘴里说出来的这样一项立法，会震动首都政坛。特朗普对主持人表示，其实在当时起草的演讲稿中并没有这样的内容。但他转向助手，建议他们也许应该把这项内容放进演讲稿中。午餐结束后后，助手匆匆离开，去通知他们的同事，包括总统打击移民计划的设计师史蒂芬·K·班农(Stephen K. Bannon)和史蒂芬·米勒(Stephen Miller)。
Once again, the unlikeliest of presidents had torn up the script and thrown his young administration into upheaval. Once again, Washington was left trying to fathom what his strategy was. Was it mad genius, an improvisational leader proposing a Nixon-goes-to-China move to overhaul immigration after making a point of deporting “bad hombres”? Or was it simply madness, an undisciplined political amateur unable to resist telling guests what he thinks they want to hear even at the expense of his own political base?
In the end, he did not include it in the speech. And yet, rising to the occasion, Mr. Trump on Tuesday night sounded as presidential as he ever has since taking office. He invoked Abraham Lincoln and Dwight D. Eisenhower, heralded Black History Month, condemned anti-Semitic vandalism, celebrated American entrepreneurs like Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison and promised a “renewal of the American spirit.” He followed the written text on the teleprompters more closely than any major speech of his presidency.
最终，他并没有把相关内容加进演讲里。但周二晚上，特朗普表现十分得体，是他上任以来最有总统风范的一次讲话。他提到亚伯拉罕·林肯(Abraham Lincoln)和德怀特·D·艾森豪威尔(Dwight D. Eisenhower)、谈及黑人历史月(Black History Month)即将到来、谴责反犹破坏活动、称赞亚历山大·格雷厄姆·贝尔(Alexander Graham Bell)和托马斯·爱迪生(Thomas Edison)等美国发明家，并承诺“复兴美国精神”。在他任内的所有重要讲话中，这是他最尊重提词器上的文字的一次。
Still, the paradox remained. He called for working “past the differences of party,” just hours after he called Representative Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic leader from California, “incompetent.” He declared that “the time for trivial fights is behind us” just weeks after engaging in a public Twitter war with Arnold Schwarzenegger over the ratings for “Celebrity Apprentice.” He paid emotional tribute to a slain Navy SEAL on the same day he blamed his death on “the generals.”
但矛盾依然存在。他呼吁“放弃党派分歧”，但就在几个小时前，他还称来自加利福尼亚州的众议院民主党领袖南希·佩洛西(Nancy Pelosi)“无能”。他声称“进行鸡毛蒜皮的争斗的时候已经过去了”，但就在几周前，他还因《名人学徒》(Celebrity Apprentice)的评分而在Twitter上和阿诺德·施瓦辛格(Arnold Schwarzenegger)开战。他深情地缅怀了一名阵亡的海豹突击队员，但就在同一天，他将这位士兵的死归咎于“将军们”。
And then there was that immigration trial balloon. If nothing else, Donald Trump the showman kept the attention right where he wanted it — squarely on himself. By the time he took the rostrum in the House chamber on Tuesday night for the functional equivalent of a State of the Union address, he had generated considerable suspense around what he would actually say and how it would be received.
As lawmakers strained to listen for a potential shift, Mr. Trump boasted of deporting “gang members, drug dealers and criminals,” saying that “bad ones are going out as I speak.” He introduced guests in the first lady’s box whose families had suffered at the hands of criminals in the country illegally.
But he talked about “reforming our system of legal immigration,” saying as he has before that the United States should base its admission of foreigners on merit. “I believe that real and positive immigration reform is possible as long as we focus on the following goals,” he added, “to improve jobs and wages for Americans, to strengthen our nation’s security and to restore respect for our laws.”
Whether this was all an intentional distraction remained unclear by the time he wrapped up and headed back down Pennsylvania Avenue. This is, after all, a White House that revels in what its current occupants refer to as the “head fake,” where the president gives the impression of moving one way when he is really moving in a completely different direction, even diverting attention from one controversy by creating another.
That leaves allies and adversaries alike scratching their heads about what Mr. Trump really believes. In private discussions, a mystified Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader from Kentucky, has said Mr. Trump appears uncertain about precisely where he stands on critical issues. Thus, many search for ways to influence a malleable president prone to spouting out off-the-cuff ideas depending on his audience.
Mr. Trump’s advisers have said privately that they wanted this speech to be more optimistic than his Inaugural Address, an 18-minute jeremiad against what he called “American carnage” and the establishment he blamed for it. Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump has privately expressed concern about the harsh tone of her father’s rhetoric over many months.
No president in modern times had shown up for his first speech to Congress with approval ratings so low — just 42 percent in the latest Gallup poll. His 40 days of careening from one crisis to another, many of them self-created, had sowed deep doubts about his leadership not only among Democrats and independents but even among many Republicans. His challenge for this address was to move beyond these moments and establish himself as a president.
The speechwriting was described by one senior administration official as an “accordionlike process,” stretching to include multiple contributors inside and outside the administration, and then shrank back to include just a few people. In addition to Mr. Bannon and Mr. Miller, they included Vince Haley, a former adviser to Newt Gingrich, and Mario Loyola, a conservative writer, according to two senior administration officials. Other advisers like Kellyanne Conway also were involved.
一名本届政府高官形容讲稿的写作是“拉手风琴般的过程”——拉开，让政府内外的多位撰稿人加入进来，然后合上，仅保留少数几个人。据两名政府高官称，除了班农和米勒，还包括纽特·金里奇(Newt Gingrich)的前顾问文斯·黑利(Vince Haley)和保守派作家马里奥·洛约拉(Mario Loyola)。凯莉安·康维(Kellyanne Conway)等顾问也参与其中。
One official said Mr. Trump had taken ownership of this speech in a way that he had not before. He practiced it repeatedly, adjusting once again to a teleprompter format that has never felt totally comfortable to him. As the hour went on, Mr. Trump grew more comfortable.
Immigration was one area where he was evidently still trying to calibrate. After all, Mr. Trump was not always so strident on the issue. After the 2012 election, he denounced Mitt Romney for supporting what he called “self-deportation,” calling it “a crazy policy” that cost Mr. Romney the Hispanic vote. The Democrats, he said then, did not have a policy “but what they did have going for them is they weren’t meanspirited about it.”
So perhaps it was not so surprising that Mr. Trump pivoted at the lunch with anchors. Asked about efforts to deport immigrants in the country illegally, Mr. Trump, without prompting, raised the idea of legislation, noting that there had not been anything comprehensive on the subject since Ronald Reagan’s amnesty program in the 1980s.
Mr. Trump told the anchors it was time for a bill that would grant legal status to many of those in the country illegally as long as both sides compromised. He said he recognized that it would cause him political problems with his conservative base voters, according to people in the room, but added that he thought he could keep them happy since they had stuck with him throughout last year’s Republican primaries.
When Mr. Trump offered the idea, he let the word “compromise” hang in the air, gauging the reaction. The president’s aides glanced at each other, then moved quickly to alert Mr. Bannon and Mr. Miller.
That the proposal did not ultimately make it into the speech may speak to the influence of Mr. Bannon’s wing. But the town was confused and off balance, just the way Mr. Trump likes it.