Skip to main content

For most Canadians, the news during the rally-cum-rant in Phoenix, Tuesday night, arrived when Donald Trump predicted the North American free trade talks would likely fail and he would terminate the accord.

"Personally, I don't think we can make a deal," the President told thousands of supporters at the Phoenix Convention Center. "…so I think we'll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point….We'll see."

The continental economy could go into a tailspin were the United States to walk away from the treaty upon which North American free trade depends. However, Mr. Trump is at his most verbose at these rallies, which are attended by his core supporters. The actual negotiations may not be affected by his remarks.

Opinion: Canada should prepare for life without NAFTA

Related: Trump revisits his Charlottesville comments in angry speech

Regardless, he assured the crowd, "you're in good hands." That is open to debate. Because Donald Trump enjoyed running for president more than he enjoys being one, he holds these rallies to affirm himself, like a war veteran reliving battles that gave his life more purpose than it has now.

In Phoenix, he rambled on once again about "our amazing election victory," and reminded the crowd: "This was the scene of my first rally speech, right?"

"…You were there at the start, you've been there every single day since, and I will never forget, believe me, Arizona."

North Korea is arming with nuclear weapons, the Obamacare repeal bill failed, the Republican Congressional leadership is increasingly mutinous and his Afghanistan policy turns out to be the same no-hope-of-victory-but-refusing-to-admit-defeat grind that Barack Obama and George W. Bush made do with.

But at a rally, surrounded by thousands of adoring Make America Great Again fans, everything becomes possible again.

"I don't believe that any president has accomplished as much as this president in the first six or seven months," he fantasized. "I came to Washington for you. Your dreams are my dreams, your hopes are my hopes." And they believed him.

If there is a ground zero for all of the controversies that surround this tumultuous president, Phoenix might be it. For one thing, Mr. Trump is at war with both of the state's Republican senators.

Jeff Flake, who is up for re-election next year, recently released a book that criticizes his president and his party for giving in "to the politics of anger." In response, Mr. Trump announced his support for a candidate who is challenging the senator in the primary.

John McCain's no vote in the Senate helped doom the Republicans' hopes of repealing Obamacare. By visiting Arizona, Mr. Trump reminds us that he is as much at war with Republicans in Congress as with Democrats.

But much of the rally was given over to a revisionist history of the events in Charlottesville last week, in which Mr. Trump omitted any mention of his claim that "many sides" were responsible for the violence that killed one person and "good people" could be found among the white supremacists who fomented the unrest.

Instead he blamed the "very dishonest media" who "don't like our country" and "don't report the facts" for the storm of controversy that has seen the leadership of his own party condemn his remarks.

And after insisting over and over again that he opposed all racist sentiment, Mr. Trump declared his opponents were "trying to take away our culture, they're trying to take away our history." There is so much to say about that that I am left mute.

And just in case the situation required more lighter fluid, Mr. Trump all-but-delivered a presidential pardon for retired police chief Joe Arpaio, who was convicted of contempt of court for ignoring a judge's order to stop racial profiling Latinos and for turning detainees over to immigration officials.

Mr. Arpaio "was convicted for doing his job." Mr. Trump opined, promising his supporters: "I'll make a prediction – I think he's going to be just fine, okay?"

Of course, Mr. Trump's most famous election pledge was to build a "big, beautiful wall" along the Mexican border, including the border with Arizona. Congress has refused to provide funds for the wall.

Tuesday night he vowed, perhaps prophetically, "If we have to close down our government, we're building that wall." Unless Congress and the president can agree on a new arrangement for funding the federal government by September 30, it could indeed suffer a limited shutdown.

But these rallies are not simply about supplying a fresh spate of can-you-believe-it? headlines and tweets. They might not even be solely about stoking the loyal base of Trump supporters.

One suspects Mr. Trump holds these rallies to make him feel better about himself, to remind himself he is loved, in a Phoenix arena, at least, if not in Washington, where he has discovered that the job of President of the United States is very, very hard.

President Donald Trump sought to defend himself from charges of being soft on white nationalists and neo-Nazis by quoting his own comments on the issue in the wake of violence in Charlottesviille. However, Trump omitted his own 'many sides' addition to his initial comments criticizing the source of violence in Virginia over a week ago.