The most charitable explanation for the weirdly disjointed speech that Donald Trump delivered to the conservative Faith and Freedom Coalition’s conference in Washington on Friday afternoon is that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee and his team haven’t really figured out teleprompters yet.
Trump’s famously unscripted public appearances have led him into considerable trouble in the past two weeks, particularly his borderline obsessive attacks on federal judge Gonzalo Curiel, who he explicitly accused of bias because of his Mexican ancestry.
In what appears to be an effort to rein in the billionaire’s verbal excesses, Trump’s team somehow got him to submit to the indignity of reading prepared remarks rather than speaking off the cuff. His remarks when he declared victory after the final primary elections of the Republican race Tuesday night appeared to be largely scripted.
The teleprompters were, literally, brought out for Trump again on Friday. Following remarks from former presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, who roamed the stage speaking extemporaneously, technicians at the Faith and Freedom event brought out the transparent screens in advance of Trump taking the stage.
But something about Trump’s remarks seemed...off. The relatively brief appearance was marked by clunky non-sequiturs, awkward pauses and weird phrasing.
The thrice-married Trump said that one of his goals as president would be to reinforce “marriage and family as the building block of happiness and success.
“So important,” he said, then added, “The happiest people are the people that have that great...religious feel and that incredible marriage.”
Moving on, he said, “Religious freedom. The right of people of faith to freely practice their faith. So important. Freedom of any kind means no one should be judged by their race or their color or the color of their skin. Should not be judged that way. Right now we have a very divided nation. We’re going to bring our nation together. If I win we’re going to bring the nation together.”
If that was supposed to be a walk-back of his attacks on Curiel, it wasn’t a particularly convincing one.
Trump promptly moved on to “the importance of faith to United States society.”
“It’s really the people who go to church, who work and who work in religious charities. And share their values. These are the foundations of our society. We must continue to forge our partnership with Israel and work to ensure Israel’s security.”
It was almost as though a sentence from a foreign policy speech somehow got dropped into the middle of a set of remarks on religious freedom, and Trump, Ron Burgundy-like, just read right through it.
The speech included other oddities, like: “We have to take care of our neighbors, because right now our neighbors are not being taken care of.”
Near the end of the speech, Trump in one breath went from a call for respect for police and law enforcement personnel to a promise to impose new ethics rules that would apply specifically to the secretary of state.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke about Trump with Bloomberg News. “I have argued to him publicly and privately that he ought to use a script more often,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with having prepared texts.”
After today, McConnell might not be so sure.