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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Donald Trump: healer or divider of a nation?

The two sides of Mr Trump have been on display throughout his presidency and this week, both sides appeared within the span of 24 hours

US president Donald Trump has flip-flopped throughout his presidency - sometimes displaying a measured tone, and at other times, delivering blistering attacks at his critics. Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo
US president Donald Trump has flip-flopped throughout his presidency - sometimes displaying a measured tone, and at other times, delivering blistering attacks at his critics. Carolyn Kaster/AP Photo

In the space of less than 24 hours and in the course of two speeches, Donald Trump this week went from divider in chief to healer of the nation.

A day after the president delivered a blistering attack on the media and critics inside his own Republican Party, the US president called for a “new unity” as he addressed military veterans.

"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," he said in Reno, Nevada, on Wednesday.

He called on all Americans to emulate the patriotism and work ethic of veterans.

A day earlier he opened his rally in Phoenix in the same spirit, but quickly veered off script into a freewheeling attack on his favourite enemies. He accused reporters of twisting his response to recent violence in Charlottesville, criticised two local senators without naming them and threatened to shut down the government if Congress did not fund his border wall.

These two sides of Mr Trump have been on display throughout his presidency. On Monday evening, Autocue Trump struck a more measured tone as he prepared the nation for more years of war in Afghanistan, but a day later Unplugged Trump was back happily energising his base.

It was the sort of performance that won free airtime on the nation’s TV networks throughout the campaign. But the latest figures suggest his power is waning.

About 28 million people tuned in to watch his Afghanistan address, about a third less than to hear his predecessor Barack Obama speak on the same subject in 2009, according to figures collected by the ratings company Nielson.

The president will see vindication for his barnstorming approach. But at the same time, analysts say they see in Mr Trump’s wildly different performance the struggle inside the White House to rein in his instincts and keep him sounding presidential.

So by Wednesday he was back to the teleprompter. In a 22-minute address to the American Legion, he said: "It is time to heal the wounds that have divided us, and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us."

It is a sign of the more moderate Trump that many hoped would emerge in office once the vigour of the campaign trail was in the past.

He told his audience that in the US, "we are not defined by the colour our skin, the figure on our pay cheque, or the party of our politics.

“We are defined by our shared humanity — by our citizenship in this magnificent nation, and by the love that fills our hearts.”

Mr Trump responded to the comparison yesterday morning, providing his own analysis and pointing out that changing tone was an important political skill.

“The Fake News is now complaining about my different types of back to back speeches. Well, there was Afghanistan (sombre), the big Rally ... (enthusiastic, dynamic and fun) and the American Legion - VA (respectful and strong),” he wrote. “Too bad the Dems have no one who can change tones!”

Critics see flip-flops and lack of a coherent strategy.

This week, for example, he alienated other Republicans — including his leader in the Senate — a move which senior party figures said made little sense.

On Tuesday, he criticised two Arizona senators (who have been outspoken in their criticism of the president) and throughout the week he has kept up attacks on Mitch McConnell, majority leader in the Senate, for not overhauling voting rules that he believes hinders the passage of bills.

But Rich Galen, a Republican strategist, said the approach made no sense when Mr Trump needed his wafer thin Senate majority to get behind his legislative agenda, including tax reform and infrastructure building.

“He is isolating himself in a manner that almost seems like he is doing it on purpose because it is so senseless,” he said.

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