Donald Trump keeps to the script with unity call at veterans' conference

President Donald Trump returned to calls for unity and love as he spoke to veterans at an American Legion conference.

"We are here to hold you up as an example of strength, courage and resolve that our country will need to overcome the many challenges that we face," Mr Trump told the veterans in Reno, Nevada, speaking in measured tones and adhering to his prepared remarks.

He said all Americans must learn the same work ethic, patriotism and devotion as veterans.

Mr Trump had opened his Tuesday rally in Phoenix much the same way but quickly erupted in anger, blaming the media for the widespread condemnation of his response to violence at a Charlottesville, Virginia, protest organised by white supremacists.

At the Phoenix rally, he read from his three responses to the racially charged violence, becoming more animated with each one.

He withdrew from his suit pocket the written statement he had read the day a woman was killed by a man who had ploughed a car through counter-protesters, but he skipped over the trouble-causing part that he had freelanced at the time: his observation that "many sides" were to blame.

That, as well as his reiteration days later that "both sides" were to blame for the violence that led to the death of Heather Heyer and two state troopers, led Democrats and many Republicans to denounce Mr Trump for not unmistakably condemning white supremacists and other hate groups.

The president awoke on Wednesday still thinking about the rally, as evidenced by his Twitter account. "Last night in Phoenix I read the things from my statements on Charlottesville that the Fake News Media didn't cover fairly," he wrote. "People got it!"

By the time he arrived at the American Legion conference, Mr Trump seemed more congenial.

He even thanked Senator Dean Heller, a Nevada Republican with whom he has openly and repeatedly feuded.

He discussed his early efforts to restructure and improve the Veterans Administration.

But Mr Trump was not able to stick to his unity theme on Tuesday night.

His broadside against the media, and the "fake news" he says is out to get him, was one of several detours he took from remarks prepared for the Phoenix rally.

Mr Trump unabashedly acknowledged that his own advisers had urged him to stay on message, and that he simply could not.

He suggested he intends to pardon former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who is awaiting sentencing in Arizona after his conviction in federal court for disobeying court orders to stop his immigration patrols.

After whipping up the crowd about Arpaio, he said he wanted to avoid "controversy" by not speaking about the pardon, but added: "I'll make a prediction: I think he's going to be just fine."

He followed up on Wednesday morning on Twitter, writing: "Phoenix crowd last night was amazing - a packed house. I love the Great State of Arizona."

As for how he would assist with the upcoming Herculean tasks facing Congress, passing tax reform, raising the debt ceiling, and agreeing on a budget, Mr Trump offered little detail.

He did threaten that if legislators force a government shutdown "we're building that wall", a reference to his campaign promise to close off the border with Mexico.

He also said he thinks the US will "end up probably terminating" the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico "at some point", though he said he has not made up his mind.

"Personally, I don't think we can make a deal because we have been so badly taken advantage of," Mr Trump said.

In the comfort of his most fervent fans, Mr Trump often resurrects his free-wheeling 2016 campaign style, pinging insults at perceived enemies such as the media and meandering from topic to topic without a singular theme.

This was Mr Trump's eighth rally since taking office in January, and each event is attended by supporters screened by his campaign.

His comfort-level was apparent: As he discussed his responses to Charlottesville, he interrupted himself. "I didn't want to bore you. You understand where I'm coming from. You people understand."

AP


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