But the president kept his speech within his wheelhouse: name-calling and insults.
Republican officials who attended the rally would like to put Trump’s rhetoric aside and focus on his policies, but this insistence highlights the common decency they forfeited in their support for him.
To kick things off at the March 28 rally, Trump began with the mocking of someone’s physical appearance.
“Little pencil-neck Adam Schiff,” he said of the Democrat in charge of the House Intelligence Committee, who has continued to voice concerns about the 2016 Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia. “He’s got the smallest, thinnest neck I’ve ever seen.”
Trump framed his campaign stop around the conclusion of the Robert Mueller investigation into the 2016 campaign, which found the campaign did not collude with Russia. Trump repeatedly claimed “total exoneration” on obstruction of justice, while the investigation left the door open to this possibility.
Trump used the word “hell” at least a dozen times in his speech, and also “bull****.” He marshaled unanimous “boos” by calling out the “fake news” media and labeled a host of other adversaries as “losers.”
Donald Trump Jr., speaking before his father, called the House Democrat “Adam Full of Schiff,” and said he was peddling “Bull Schiff.” While prepping for a local TV interview, he tipped the microphone to the crowd as they chanted “CNN sucks!”
When President Trump won the 2016 election over Democrat Hillary Clinton, many expected him to settle into a more presidential tenor. In reality, he has never stopped holding rallies, nor abandoned his campaign trail candor.
His latest remarks mirror those from 2016, when, also in Grand Rapids, Trump made reference to Clinton’s menstrual cycle. Also at a campaign rally, he made gestures mocking a reporter with cerebral palsy.
Some elected officials seem to go suddenly deaf when the president hurls these insults. Allow me to name some names.
In attendance at the rally were former Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette and current congressmen Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, and John Moolenaar, R-Midland. From personal experience, I know these men would not allow the mocking of physical appearances, of the disabled, or of prisoners of war at their own rallies — or likely at their own dinner tables.
Huizenga has been polite and detail-oriented when I have covered and interviewed him as a reporter. He makes it a point of pride to not name his opponents, and to focus on the issues.
When the congressman is less familiar with a topic, Huizenga is careful to concede he is not an expert, rather than boast of being the “best and smartest.” Meanwhile, Trump said he knows “a lot about wind,” while suggesting, “If it doesn’t blow, you can forget about television that night.”
Moolenaar, who I had the opportunity to interview at a previous job as a reporter, was in my experience a masterclass in friendliness. Like Huizenga, he was accessible and chose to highlight his work across the aisle with Democrats.
Visiting a newspaper I worked at, then-Attorney General Bill Schuette, amid his campaign for governor, offered to pay for a copy of the paper, and was likewise polite and accessible to local media.
I have yet to hear any of these Republicans refer to newspapers as “fake news.” But these officials seem to think the same standards of decency don’t apply to the country’s highest office.
Covering the Grand Rapids rally, I asked state Sen. Roger Victory, R-Hudsonville, how he felt about Trump’s rhetoric. He praised the president’s policies for enshrining “Midwestern values,” but called his verbiage “unique,” “bold” and “out there.”
Diane Schindlbeck, a campaigner for Trump in Michigan, said you can tell the difference between the “real” supporters and the “fake” ones by asking about the president’s behavior on Twitter, where he often rants in all caps and smears his opponents. (The real ones love it, she said.)
Midwestern politicians often focus on “dinner table issues” — day-to-day burdens like roads and paychecks that affect families across the country. But these Republicans need to grapple with the most basic dinner table issue of all: kindness.
— Alexander Sinn is a reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. He covers the City of Grand Haven, Grand Haven Township and environmental issues.