Analysis: A Subdued Donald Trump in a Curious Setting

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — I had to make an attitude adjustment. This was a policy speech not a fire-them-up political rally. Yes, we were in Youngstown, Ohio, but we were hearing Donald Trump’s proposals to counter terrorism and control immigration from Middle East states — not the red-meat trade populism that resonates in this valley of political resentment.

It seemed so out of place. Perhaps that’s why Rudy Giuliani was mixed up when he introduced Mike Pence by extolling “what he’s done for your state, how he improved it and helped it, and left it in a good condition.”

Oops. Obviously Rudy was not reading from the teleprompter. Donald Trump would not make that mistake.

Not once did he vow to make America great again. Nor did the Republican presidential candidate mention Youngstown, not even to champion how pleased he was to be at Youngstown State University.

Instead, he came to the podium at the Chestnut Room in Kilcawley Center and immediately began reading his nearly one-hour speech. No asides. Not one “Believe me.” Not even a laugh line. This was serious business.

The speech sounded like it was painstakingly prepared – at first reminiscent of a high-school paper as the candidate opened by reciting a list of terrorist domestic and international terrorist attacks. The full-text PDF later released by the campaign was footnoted with numerous sources to support the accuracy of Trump’s statements.

This was the presidential Donald Trump who awoke Monday to a Wall Street Journal editorial that challenged him “to behave like someone who wants to be president – or turn the nomination over to Mike Pence.” This was the Donald Trump who awoke the day before to a blistering story in The New York Times that cited 20 supporters, all speaking anonymously, who claimed the candidate was “exhausted, frustrated, and still bewildered by fine points of the political process and why his incendiary approach seems to be sputtering.”

To be sure, his presentation at YSU was low-key; his critics might smirk and claim it was delivered with Jeb Bush-like low energy. But there can be no doubt that Trump stayed on script and punctuated the applause lines as they were written. Still, when the invited audience of 350 GOP leaders from the six-county region clapped, or broke into chants of “Trump, Trump, Trump,” he responded in a subdued tone by saying “Thank you” and moved on. There would be no misstatements, no double entendres that could be dissected, just an exhausting speech on combating “radical Islamic terrorism” that offered some new ideas and gave press fact-checkers new opportunities to correct some of the candidate’s assertions (e.g. Trump’s claim that he opposed invading Iraq before the first troops landed).

When the speech ended and Trump immediately left the stage, I felt let down, somehow deprived of the story we’ve come to expect when presidential candidates come to town. Last night, as I watched national news accounts of the speech and cable TV commentators’ analyses, my sense of deprivation was severe. Where was the Youngstown story, the emblematic Rust Belt narrative, the ironic prospect of white working-class Democrats crossing over to vote for a Jim Traficant-like character?

I could have been relieved that we did not have to endure more file footage on national newscasts of steel mills being demolished, grateful that YSU was distinguished as the site for such an important speech about national security and that the Mahoning Valley was not treated to new pabulum about creating jobs.

There’s always next time.

Trump to Fight Terrorism with ‘Extreme Vetting,’ Coalitions
Read Transcript of Trump’s Speech at YSU

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