Trump whips up rally crowd as re-election bid kicks off
Donald Trump has launched his re-election bid in Florida, America's largest swing state, by pledging to round up millions of undocumented immigrants.
The US president also undercut his top officials by downplaying attacks on tankers in the Middle East and announced to the Floridian crowd that his acting defence secretary would leave the job after family domestic violence allegations came to light.
Such a rush of headlines might have seemed extraordinary during previous administrations. For Mr Trump, it was just another day.
Polls have consistently shown that more people disapprove of Mr Trump's handling of his job than approve, but the president has not calibrated, instead redoubling his focus on his most avid backers.
At Orlando's Amway Centre, Mr Trump told the crowd that his election in 2016 was the result of a great political movement that has been under attack ever since, despite what he described as the great successes of his presidency.
"We accomplished more than any other president has in the first two and a half years of a presidency and under circumstances that no president has had to deal with before," he said with typical hyperbole.
Mr Trump's argument for a second term in office then quickly became a rehash of grievances and false claims from his first campaign, along with a hit parade of lines that generate applause at rallies.
He veered off-script to rail at length against the "witch hunt" special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and revisited complaints about the media, "Crooked Hillary" and her missing emails.
"They are really going after you," Mr Trump said of the list of enemies he laid out for the crowd. "They tried to erase your vote, erase the legacy of the greatest campaign and the greatest election probably in the history of the country."
And he warned of the threats posed by immigrants, a focus of his presidency that has thrilled his most ardent supporters and caused his critics to accuse him of promoting racism.
"It's time to pass Kate's Law, end sanctuary cities, end catch-and-release, deport vicious gang members - which we're doing - stop human trafficking, stop illegal immigration and establish a modern immigration system based on skills, contributions and based on merit," Mr Trump said. "We want people to come into our country based on merit."
The rambling performance was in itself a portrait of his presidency: singular, highly personalised and undisciplined.
It's that approach that appeals to supporters such as 36-year-old Michelle Best, who described Mr Trump's brashness as "brilliant".
"He knows how to irritate people. He's very intelligent. He knows how to get to them," said Ms Best, a resident of Brandon, Florida.
"Trump knows weaknesses, and he knows how to exploit them. Is he the nicest guy? Nice doesn't get things done. I don't want a nice president. I want a president that gets things done. And he's getting things done."
Some critics warn, however, that the president's flair for controversy is turning off moderate voters and making opposition Democrats more determined to oust him.
"It helps fuel Democratic energy because everything Democrats see coming out of the White House is exactly why they want to make sure a Democrat wins," said Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University and author of the book 'Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974'.
"It's not just about policy, it's about the way he runs the country."
Before he boarded Air Force One to leave Washington, Mr Trump set himself apart from his predecessors in another way, announcing the appointment of his third Pentagon chief in less than three years, Mark Esper, who has served as Army secretary since 2017.
"Acting Secretary of Defence Patrick Shanahan, who has done a wonderful job, has decided not to go forward with his confirmation process so that he can devote more time to his family," the president tweeted.
Mr Shanahan - meant to replace Jim Mattis, who left after clashing with Mr Trump on Syria - bowed out of consideration following reports of family violence allegations. He denied any wrongdoing.
The turbulence atop the defence department comes at a time of heightened tensions in the Middle East over attacks on oil tankers.
But in an interview with 'Time' magazine this week, Mr Trump undercut senior officials at the Pentagon by describing the attacks as "very minor". (© Washington Post)