President Trump bookended a free-wheeling rally on Tuesday evening — which featured attacks on the media and incumbent Republicans — with a pair of disciplined speeches both before and afterward that promoted unity, creating a volatile three days for Republicans still reeling from the backlash to Trump's controversial comments on recent violence in Charlottesville, Va.
The series of speeches extended coverage of his response to the Charlottesville clashes into a second week and coincided with increased scrutiny of his relationship with GOP congressional leaders. Press secretary Sarah Sanders even felt the need to speak out publicly on reports that the lines of communication between Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had frozen over amid tensions that the Charlottesville imbroglio had only made worse.
"He's literally trying to do three things at once," Ford O'Connell, a Republican strategist, said of Trump. "[He's trying to] pass his legislative agenda, fire up the base and push back on the media narrative that he's a racist."
Trump had opened his primetime national security address on Monday with his most forceful call for unity since a white supremacist rally in Virginia turned violent on Aug. 12. But he launched into a lengthy relitigation of the controversy over his response last week to Charlottesville during his rally in Phoenix on Tuesday.
And the president reverted back to the formality of Monday's remarks with a speech in Reno, Nev., on Wednesday dedicated to veterans and national unity.
"The main concern from members of Congress is there remains a desire to see more of a focus on delivering on the economic agenda that was promised to voters.," said Kevin Madden, a Republican strategist and former Mitt Romney campaign aide.
"So the more tactical the White House can get with the president's travel and message, the more political capital he can build up," Madden added. "Rallies that create headlines about internal party battles among Republicans just make that harder to achieve."
Trump took aim during his rally on Tuesday at Sen. Jeff Flake, although he did not mention the Arizona Republican by name until the following morning and did so only on social media.
"You know, they all said, Mr. President, your speech was so good last night, please, please, Mr. President don't mention any names," Trump said during his rally on Tuesday, referring to the speech on the Afghanistan war he had delivered the previous evening.
"So I won't. I won't. No I won't vote — one vote away, I will not mention any names. Very presidential, isn't' it? Very presidential," Trump said, hinting at his frustration with Arizona Sen. John McCain's refusal to vote in favor of an Obamacare repeal. McCain's vote against the healthcare legislation last month sunk Republicans' reform effort.
"And nobody wants me to talk about your other senator, who's weak on borders, weak on crime, so I won't talk about him," Trump added, referring to Flake.
Sean Noble, a Republican strategist in Arizona, said Trump likely examined coverage of his Charlottesville statements from the podium at his Phoenix rally because he guessed his supporters would enjoy it.
"The president understands where his base is," Noble said. "They are split on Afghanistan, they are totally united on disdain for the media, so the relitigation of Charlottesville was a calculated move."
While the thousands of Trump fans who braved the Arizona heat to see the president on Tuesday cheered loudly for his meandering speech, Republicans on Capitol Hill were less enthused about his rant.
For example, House Speaker Paul Ryan quickly poured cold water on Trump's call for Republicans to shut down the government in order to secure funding for the border wall, and other members joined in the efforts to downplay the idea.
Ned Ryun, CEO of American Majority and a former writer for President George W. Bush, said Trump will need to rely on the "D.C. establishment" he bashed at Tuesday's rally when the spending and debt ceiling fights of September arrive.
"My concern is that Trump views this disagreement in symmetric terms wherein both sides need each other equally," Ryun said. "Quite frankly, right now the GOP Congress does not think that it needs Trump nearly as much as he needs them."
The bad blood brewing between Trump and some congressional Republicans could complicate the president's push to secure $1.6 billion in funding for his border wall. Beyond the reality that Trump will need to attract at least eight Democrats to the idea of paying for a border wall over the next month, Trump could face resistance from Republicans who may be hesitant to expend political capital for a White House that has suffered through weeks of upheaval and controversy.