The usually bombastic president went radio silent during his eight-hour flight from Washington to Zurich — even as Fox News’ impeachment coverage played on television aboard Air Force One — and refrained from commenting at length about the historic political moment throughout his day in Davos. Instead, Trump kept his focus trained on the purported successes of his economic agenda — touting steady job growth, low unemployment and the “phase-one” trade agreement with China — even as wages continue to stagnate for the vast majority of American workers.
“Despite all of the cynics, I have never been more confident in America’s future,” he said during a Tuesday morning speech at the 50th annual gathering in Davos, where two overflow rooms were needed to accommodate the crowd for Trump’s remarks.
By the end of his day, the president’s only comments on impeachment were a tossed off, “That whole thing is a hoax,” and one tweet — an all-caps “READ THE TRANSCRIPTS.” Beyond that, he left his communications strategy in the hands of his staff, which issued a scathing statement about Rep. Adam Schiff as he made the Democrats’ opening arguments on the Senate floor while Trump entertained business leaders with sports gossip and talk of 5G innovation at a private dinner in the Alps.
It was a restrained and on-message approach for a president who is typically unbounded and off-script, and whose disdain for the global elite surrounding him here has previously led to inflammatory rhetoric. The performance could hint at how Trump plans to appeal to the elite business community as he stumps for re-election — forget about the scandals, the stock market is doing great and job growth is steady.
Trump was making his case to foreign leaders and business tycoons that his controversial approach to the global economy — trampling long-held norms on trade, tariffs and taxes — had contributed to a “blue-collar boom” in the United States. In lieu of his typical impeachment bombast, Trump spent his day challenging claims that his protectionist impulses have disrupted global trade.
Meanwhile in D.C., Trump’s aides were establishing an impeachment war room and plotting how to make their case to the American public that the president is being railroaded by a Democratic Party intent on doing everything it can to oust the president.
“The Democrats are an utter joke,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone said in a statement circulated by the press office Tuesday morning.
The group of White House aides, Republican Party officials and outside advisers crafted talking points for Trump surrogates designed to sway public opinion. Elsewhere, Trump’s top GOP allies from the House impeachment process, tapped as presidential impeachment advisers, made plans to defend the president on TV.
One senior administration official described the White House’s goal as making sure Democrats are held accountable in the public arena. Because the Senate is controlled by Republicans who are expected to acquit Trump, the White House aides are more focused on trying to sway public opinion.
“We’re not messaging to senators personally,” the official said.
Back in Switzerland, Trump began his morning speech with a brief brag about the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and his incremental trade deal with China — both of which were finalized last week.
“The two biggest trade deals ever made [and] they just happened to get done in the same week,” Trump said, accusing dignitaries and business leaders in the room of turning a blind eye to “chronic problems” in the international trade system “that have been ignored or enabled for decades.”
Trump took credit for upending and improving that system, alluding to the wary reception he received during his only other trip as president to the Davos forum in 2018.
“When I spoke at this forum two years ago, I told you that we had launched the great American comeback. Today, I’m proud to declare that the U.S. is in the midst of an economic boom, the likes of which the world has never seen before,” the president said.
He continued, “America’s economic turnaround has been nothing short of spectacular. We regained our stride, rediscovered our spirit and reawakened the powerful machinery of American enterprise.”
But Trump’s celebratory remarks accompanied a stern warning to the elite global audience. Nodding to his “America First” agenda, the president cautioned his foreign counterparts not to pollute his efforts to level the field of international trade and said his top priority is U.S. workers.
Hours after Trump’s remarks, House Democrats made the case on the Senate floor that Trump’s priority is actually himself.
Democrats have accused Trump of withholding financial aid and an official White House visit as leverage to pressure Ukraine to announce probes of Joe Biden, a potential Trump 2020 rival. They impeached him over the matter and on Tuesday made their opening arguments in the Senate trial that will determine Trump’s fate.
Yet Trump didn’t bite.
He deferred to his staff — both in Davos and back in D.C. — to respond to the specifics of the Democrats’ initial statements. “He has a full day here in Davos, but will be briefed by staff periodically,” insisted White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham.
On the White House complex, the burgeoning war room was forming in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjacent to the West Wing. Officials from Trump’s legal team, legislative affairs team and communications office planned how to respond to the impeachment trial in real-time and coordinated with outside allies.
Meanwhile, in Switzerland, the chatter throughout the day focused on other issues, such as the Trump administration’s attempts to negotiate with French officials over a contentious digital tax that takes money from revenue that American tech companies earn in France.
The Trump administration appeared ready to strike a deal with France ahead of the Davos summit to further negotiate before the tax or retaliatory tariffs go into effect.
“The time for skepticism is over. America’s newfound prosperity is undeniable,” Trump told the audience, which included several global business leaders and diplomats who have been critical of his approach to trade, tax reform and deregulation.
“America achieved this stunning turnaround … by adopting a whole new approach centered entirely on the well-being of the American workers,” he added. “Every decision we make … is focused on improving the lives of everyday Americans.”
Claiming the “wreckage” caused by his predecessors’ economic and trade policies was the primary reason he ran for office three years ago, Trump described himself as a leader who has accomplished unprecedented change as he mounts his bid for a second term. Echoing a campaign message he has delivered to U.S. voters, the president also took aim at “socialism” and its “foolish fortune tellers [who] want to see us do badly.”
“We won’t let that happen,” Trump said.
Though he was greeted by a snow-carved “Act on climate” message upon landing here Tuesday morning, Trump did not explicitly mention climate change — an issue that has taken on new importance at Davos since his administration withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord — during his speech. In his only mention about the environment, he announced the U.S. would be joining the Trillion Trees Initiative, which aims to maintain existing forests and address the issues presented by climate change across the world.
“In doing so, we will continue to show strong leadership in managing our trees and our forests,” Trump said before launching an implicit rebuke of environmental activists who have called for dramatic shifts in order to combat climate change.