WASHINGTON — The teleprompter version of Donald Trump re-emerged Wednesday, a somber contrast to the caustic president on stage the night before at a campaign-style rally in Phoenix.
Speaking to veterans at an American Legion convention in Reno, Nev., Trump stuck to a patriotic and uplifting script devoid of the personal attacks and media-bashing that elicited war whoops from thousands of supporters in Phoenix.
"We are people who love. We are people with heart," he read. "We have no division too deep for us to heal, and there is no enemy too strong for us to overcome, because in America we never lose faith."
Seven months into his presidency, Trump remains a divisive figure.
Voters love him or hate him. They trust him to shake up Washington and speak his mind, or they fear he's a rogue demagogue with access to nuclear weapons.
A national poll released Wednesday by Quinnipiac University shows 62 percent of voters say Trump is doing more to divide the country than to unite it. And 59 percent say his behavior since the Charlottesville, Va., violence has encouraged white supremacist groups.
Rallying the base might be his best short-term play to shore up support. But his incendiary rhetoric and defiance won't help him make inroads with the growing majority of Americans whose negative views have hardened.
In Reno, Trump didn't revisit his selective recitation of his widely criticized comments on neo-Nazi violence.
In Phoenix, he repeated — accurately — he had condemned white supremacists. But he also brazenly omitted his assertion that "many fine people" took part in the Virginia rally featuring fascist and anti-Semitic chants and swastika flags, and his assignment of blame "on many sides" for violence. A Nazi sympathizer has been charged with murder for ramming his car through a crowd of anti-fascist protesters, killing a Charlottesville woman.
"It is time to heal the wounds that have divided us, and to seek a new unity based on the common values that unite us," he said in Nevada on Wednesday.
He didn't directly cast himself as a unifying figure, though he did focus on themes likely to resonate among veterans, among them patriotism, service to country and the colorblind camaraderie of military service.
"You teach young Americans to have pride in our history so that they will have confidence in our future. History and culture — so important," he said, in a subtle echo of his allegation the night before that the news media and other elites are intent on erasing Confederate memorials and other cherished symbols. "You emphasize the need to preserve the nation's cultural, moral and patriotic values. You encourage the observation of patriotic holidays. You stress the need to enforce our laws, including our immigration laws."
Immigration enforcement was a central topic the night before, in contrast to this passing reference in Reno.
This was Trump's third large public appearance in three days. His call for unity came across as heartfelt.
But so had the invective aimed at the "dishonest media" the night before, triggering chants of "CNN sucks!" And the vitriol he aimed at Sens. Jeff Flake and John McCain, Arizona Republicans who have distanced themselves, criticized his temperament and decisions, and — in McCain's case — single-handedly stopped an effort to repeal Obamacare.
Trump playfully avoided calling out either senator by name at his rally, noting he'd been advised doing so wouldn't be "presidential." He waited until morning to do that, via Twitter.
Trump's pivot to a more restrained tone meant setting aside the more divisive issues he'd raised in Phoenix, including a threat to force a government shutdown if Congress withholds funding for his signature campaign promise: a border wall he'd long insisted Mexico would pay for.
Democrats called the threat — like the wall — a very bad idea.
"President Trump's multibillion-dollar border wall boondoggle is strongly opposed by Democrats and many Republicans," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. "Democrats will stand fast against the immoral, ineffective border wall and the rest of Republicans' unacceptable poison pill riders."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, noted the 2013 shutdown — engineered in part by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz in an effort to defund Obamacare — cost the economy $1.5 billion a day for 16 days.
"This is not President Trump's first threat to shut down the United States government over his foolish, costly and useless wall," Leahy said, adding, "We cannot afford his brand of government by threats of manufactured crisis."
The House has approved $1.6 billion for wall construction — enough for 60 miles of new barrier in Texas, plus 14 miles of replacement fencing in San Diego. The proposal is stuck in the Senate, where Republicans would need to stand unified and also enlist support from eight Democrats.
Republicans, too, have warned against risking a shutdown, with likely harm to the U.S. economy and further erosion of public trust in government. Few would-be Trump allies in Congress have expressed any stomach for such a showdown.
Trump faced trouble on many fronts Wednesday, including a report that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has voiced doubts he can salvage his presidency, and that he and McConnell haven't spoken in weeks. The White House issued a statement insisting the men "remain united on many shared priorities, including middle-class tax relief, strengthening the military, constructing a southern border wall and other important issues."
Aides stuck by Trump's assertions that journalists hate America, and the news media is responsible for stoking divisions in American society.
"Some of that would be giving a platform to some of the divisiveness there, and elevating it," White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said aboard Air Force One as Trump returned to Washington.
"There are a lot of problems that we have in this country that are completely ignored by the press, that aren't talked about, while others that certainly aren't issues of unity are relentlessly reported and driven and pushed and covered to the point where a lot of the big issues of our time are totally unknown," she said, citing gang violence as an example of a problem that's "never reported" even though "hundreds of people are dying in our country as a result of that."
"That's an issue that could get highlighted. Focusing on the law-and-order component, versus issues where we give platforms to a lot of the evil people out there," she said.