On Monday, President Donald Trump gave a speech in the East Room pledging to preserve the environment and prioritize climate change, at odds with the president's actions, which included pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate treaty.
"Among the heritage we must preserve is our country’s incredible natural splendor — that is the shared obligation that brings us together today. We have some incredibly talented people that know environment and what we’re doing probably better than any people on Earth," Trump said.
"From day one, my administration has made it a top priority to ensure that America has among the very cleanest air and cleanest water on the planet. We want the cleanest air. We want crystal-clean water, and that’s what we’re doing and that’s what we’re working on so hard."
It might seem like a strange departure for the president. But not if you consider the speech a strategic way to reach voters who've been turned off by his crudeness.
Writing in the Washington Post, columnist Greg Sargent observes that the president's advisors fear his base is not enough to win re-election. So they're scrambling to find issues that would sway more moderate voters, particularly suburban women and younger people.
"This would seem to undercut Trump’s public bravado about his reelection chances. Trump recently mused in an interview that his base is 'phenomenal,' and, when asked whether he needed to expand his appeal beyond it, said: 'I think my base is so strong, I’m not sure that I have to do that.'” Sargent writes.
"Apparently Trump’s own advisers disagree. And the remedies they’re seeking for the problem they’ve identified tell us something interesting about the reelection challenges Trump faces."
Nevertheless, Sargent notes that keeping true to form, Trump's speech distorted the facts. "Trump absurdly took credit for environmental improvements secured under his predecessors. He also misleadingly claimed the United States is leading other countries in reducing carbon dioxide emissions, when in fact our reduction as a percentage of overall emissions — a much more meaningful metric — trails many others."
But the president may not be able to whitewash his record on the environment. It's too reflective of his least popular qualities.
"Trump’s climate and environmental agenda showcases some of Trumpism’s worst qualities: the anti-regulatory, science-denying GOP orthodoxy; the lies about bringing coal roaring back; the “America First” disdain for international engagement to solve global problems. Indeed, as Jedediah Purdy has noted, it also denotes an amoral “politics of grabbing what you can,” a central tenet of Trumpism."
And toning down the president's biggest flaws is not enough, given his actual policy record.
"Republicans sometimes say Trump might turn things around among college-educated and suburban whites by toning down the craziness and racism, so they vote for him based on the economy. But it’s evident that the policy side of Trumpism, not merely his personal qualities, are also alienating them," Sargent concludes.