The biggest applause President Donald Trump received when exiting the Paris climate accord was when he declared he was “elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”
It was a speech that at times felt more like a stadium rally than an elegant Rose Garden ceremony with jazz accompaniment.
Trump appeared to speak past his audience of supporters and skeptical reporters directly to working class Americans across struggling coal towns and factory cities.
“It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – along with many, many other locations within our great country –before Paris, France,” Trump said. “It is time to make America great again.”
It was just the latest example in recent weeks of Trump reverting to the comforts of campaign themes as his legislative agenda has been derailed by multiple scandals that have besieged his young presidency.
I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.
President Donald Trump
Yes, Trump repeatedly promised during his campaign to pull out or renegotiate the Paris accord. But like other campaign promises such as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, as president he has wavered on following through as key advisers such as daughter Ivanka and her husband, Jared Kushner, have wrestled with the potential consequences.
It’s unclear how exiting the Paris accord will affect Trump and Republicans politically. But at a time when the White House is struggling to get back on track and realign themselves with the public on the issues that got Trump to the White House in the first place, the Paris accord was his salvation in many ways.
While environmentalist and world leaders shook their heads, Trump’s base cheered. They saw their leader fighting regulations they felt contributed to closed auto factories and mining businesses in their communities. They saw Trump looking out for their interests – looking out for their jobs.
The latest Gallup survey shows that only 2 percent of Americans cited the environment or pollution as the most important problem facing the country today, while more than 20 percent named economic issues.
It also, for at least 24 hours, knocked the multiple scandals related to Russia and the firing of former FBI director James Comey off the top of the news cycles and changed – or at least inserted into – the public conversation a lively debate between jobs and the environment.
It “crystallized” the differences between right and left, Trump voters and Trump opponents, according to Republican strategist Kevin Madden, who worked for 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
“A large part of Trump’s appeal was this you and I, the average American worker, the middle class American, against the elites, not only here at home, but abroad,” Madden said.
There are risks for Trump. A recent Yale University poll found that nearly 70 percent of Americans, including almost half of Trump voters, supported the U.S. sticking with the Paris agreement. It’s worth noting that 75 percent of the voters in the city of Pittsburgh, which Trump highlighted in his Rose Garden speech, cast ballots of Hillary Clinton, Trump’s opponent.
“Generations from now, Americans will look back at Donald Trump's decision to leave the Paris agreement as one of the most ignorant and dangerous actions ever taken by any President,” Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said in a statement.
Some local leaders in those same communities Trump said he was looking out for, including Pittsburgh, charged that Trump didn’t represent their community views.
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto went further and issued an executive order a day after pledging Pittsburgh would continue to follow the guidelines of the Paris Climate Agreement.
A large part of Trump’s appeal was this you and I, the average American worker, the middle class American, against the elites not only here at home, but abroad.
Kevin Madden, Republican strategist
Last week, Trump followed a similar campaign script on his maiden trip through Europe to meet with leaders of NATO, an organization he called obsolete during his campaign.
In a speech unveiling the new NATO headquarters, Trump scolded the world leaders as if they were not standing beside him for failing to live up to its financial obligations and leaving it to U.S. taxpayers to shoulder the organization’s defense burden.
It was another message reminiscent of Trump’s campaign when he called NATO “obsolete,” before later saying the alliance was no longer obsolete.
Republican strategist Evan Siegfried said no one should be surprised by a new president fulfilling campaign promises, but he said the timing of the speeches should not be discounted, coming as Comey prepares once again to testify before Congress.
“This is all about appeasing his base,” Siegfried said. “His base is starting to show slight cracks in the wake of the Comey stuff. We’re talking about potential obstruction of justice. And that is a big problem.”
But Siegfried dismisses criticism from Democrats who claim the withdrawal is going to hurt Republicans in 2018. He said the people angered by the decision are the same as those who were angry before. The decision was not about them, but fortifying the base.
“You have to find some ways to puts wins on the board. Because the bad news has been dripping out constantly,” he said.