Trump says he’ll keep his promises. Here are some of his biggest from the campaign

Donald Trump looks out across the crowd of delegates during the final night of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland last summer.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

President Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday was his biggest speech since the inauguration. The West Wing was keen to demonstrate that Trump was keeping his promises.

With that in mind, it’s worth revisiting some of his signature campaign lines, along with the variations that came up Tuesday in the House chamber.

‘Our plan will put America first.’

In his speech accepting the Republican nomination in Cleveland in July, Trump emphasized a long-running theme of his candidacy: a rejection of governing that aimed to steer American interests through an increasingly interconnected global order.


Trump’s philosophy showed great appeal during the campaign and underlay many of the president’s early actions, especially his rejection of a proposed 12-nation Pacific trade deal. The agreement hadn’t been submitted to Congress for ratification and was already widely viewed as dead even before Trump was elected, but he nonetheless views his withdrawing the U.S. from it as a major accomplishment.

On Tuesday, Trump touted his cancellation of the trade pact and emphasized that his job was to represent just the U.S., not the rest of the world. But he avoided the “America First” slogan he has used in the past, which has drawn condemnation from the Anti-Defamation League and others who say it has anti-Semitic overtones. The America First Committee sought to keep the U.S. out of World War II.

‘I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.’

In the speech kicking off his presidential campaign in June 2015 — the one that followed a dramatic escalator trip — Trump cast doubt on the idea that President Obama had presided over a long-running economic recovery. He said unemployment data masked the true scope of the problem, and offered multiple diagnoses for why so many Americans remained unemployed.

Since taking office, Trump has reiterated the notion that he “inherited a mess” of an economy, while simultaneously taking credit for upticks in consumer confidence and the stock market that preceded his inauguration. Most independent analyses say Trump took office amid consistent economic growth.

Trump based his promise of a surge in hiring on a range of proposals — tax reform, fairer trade deals and stricter controls on immigration. Trump reminded Congress Tuesday that Wal-Mart and other companies had announced new U.S. jobs since his election. He also mentioned his effort to curb federal regulations and his plan to develop “historic tax reform.”

‘We’re going to build that wall. It’s going to be a great wall, and let me just tell you, Mexico is going to pay for the wall; they don’t know it yet.’

Perhaps no slogan was more of a crowd-pleaser than this one, delivered at a rally in Sioux City, Iowa, days before the election and many times before it.

At times during the campaign, Trump would implore audiences to answer his leading question as to who would pay for a new border wall. But he has not always given a clear picture of how exactly that would happen. The idea of a direct payment from Mexico has seemingly been dispensed with. Instead, Trump has talked more recently of a new tax scheme in which goods crossing the border might be taxed and those revenues put toward the expense of the wall.

His insistence that Mexicans will ultimately pay the price led to a very early diplomatic conflict, with President Enrique Peña Nieto canceling a planned visit to Washington over it. A joint statement from both nations later indicated the subject of paying for the wall would not come up in public again.

Trump told Congress the U.S. would soon start construction of the “great, great wall,” but omitted his usual vow to force Mexico to pay for it.

‘I say to the African American community, I say to the Hispanic community ... what the hell do you have to lose? I mean, what have you got to lose?’

Trump made a point of at least being seen as trying to make inroads into voting demographics that had been long favorable to Democrats — African Americans and Latinos, most notably. His blunt pitch, in this case delivered at a rally in November in Wilmington, Ohio — a town where nearly 9 in 10 residents were white — left him open to criticism that there was little substance or conviction to it. He has pledged that his crime and economic policies would end the “carnage” in inner cities.

On Tuesday, Trump said work still remained on blacks’ civil rights, but gave no specifics — and did not mention that his administration dropped the government’s legal objections this week to a Texas voter ID law that President Obama’s Justice Department had argued was intentionally discriminatory against minorities.

‘I want the entire corrupt Washington establishment to hear the words we are all about to say. When we win on Nov. 8, we are going to drain the swamp.’

“Drain the swamp” was a relatively late entry to the Trump roster of campaign slogans, and one that he admitted he was not sold on himself right away. But running against the establishment was a core part of his campaign.

And though he’s issued an executive order to limit any lobbying done by members of his administration after their government service, watchdogs have said the proposals fall short of what Obama implemented.

Democrats have questioned whether Trump has sufficiently severed ties between him and his businesses, and whether he stands to benefit personally from the conduct of his office.

Trump told Congress that he’d started to “drain the swamp of government corruption” with his five-year ban on lobbying by executive branch officials, and his lifetime ban on their lobbying for a foreign government.

‘I know more about ISIS than the generals do.’

In one of the feistier speeches of his campaign, months before the first nominating contest in Iowa, Trump boasted that he knew what needed to be done to defeat Islamic State — even more than the nation’s military leaders.

Now commander in chief, Trump is waiting on the new plan for combating the terrorist network that is being finalized by Pentagon strategists, in a department now led by a former general, James N. Mattis. In the meantime, Trump is seeking a major ramp-up in defense spending that he says will reverse the decline in America’s fighting power under his predecessor.

In his speech to Congress, Trump said he’d ordered the Pentagon to develop a plan to destroy ISIS, but provided no details.

‘We have a country that needs new roads, new tunnels, new bridges, new airports, new schools, new hospitals.’

Trump is a builder, he and his administration like to point out. And the idea of a major new investment in infrastructure is one of the few areas that Democrats have seemed eager to cooperate with the new president. But his administration has been silent about whether and how he will proceed with a major rebuilding effort, other than to talk generally about public-private partnerships.

Democrats want direct investment on tangible projects; the National Governors Assn., a bipartisan outfit, has sent specific ideas to the administration. Trump told Congress that he would seek a law “that produces $1-trillion investment” in infrastructure, with both public and private capital. He avoided the issue of how he might break fellow Republicans’ resistance to new federal spending.

‘We will be a country of generosity and warmth. But we will also be a country of law and order.’

In his nomination acceptance speech, Trump signaled a tough-on-crime posture that would break from policies in the Obama administration, which saw an uptick in violent crime in its final years and heightened tension between law enforcement and minority communities.

Early on, Trump has focused on border security, most notably issuing executive orders vastly expanding deportation targets to nearly everyone in the U.S. illegally and temporarily banning refugees and travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations, which was knocked down by the courts. A replacement travel ban is expected this week, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday.

In his speech on Tuesday, Trump emphasized violent crimes committed by immigrants in the U.S. illegally. He reminded Congress that he’d ordered the Homeland Security Department to create an office to give voice to victims of such crimes, saying they’d been ignored by the media and silenced by special interests.

For more White House coverage, follow @mikememoli on Twitter.


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8:40 p.m.: The story was updated with remarks from President Trump’s address to Congress.

The story was initially published at 3 a.m.