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'He can be a statesman': Trump's Normandy speech well-received by critics, other takeaways

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President Trump shared D-Day veteran Ray Lambert’s World War II story. Lambert was in attendance to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
USA TODAY

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France – Capping off a week in which he drew London protests and reopened a feud with a member of the British royal family, President Donald Trump delivered one of his most well-received speeches in Normandy, France, on Thursday.

Speaking on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in France during World War II, Trump honored the dead and paid tribute to survivors, a solemn duty of American presidents.

The address near Omaha Beach won praise from allies and critics alike. 

“He knew the importance of the occasion,” said James Carafano, vice president of national security and foreign policy at the right-leaning Heritage Foundation, noting that Trump has also delivered good speeches previously on topics like Afghanistan and Iran, and at venues like the United Nations.

Trump is an “unconventional statesman,” he said, “but he can be a statesman.”

‘You’re the pride of our nation,’: Donald Trump praises veterans on 75th D-Day anniversary in Normandy

‘We changed the world’: Now in their 90s, WWII veterans gather in Normandy for D-Day anniversary

Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group consulting firm and a frequent Trump critic, tweeted that D-Day was the “best speech of Trump’s presidency. Kept to script, not about him, maintained dignity and honor of the occasion.”

Other critics also gave Trump high marks, though some were grudging.

MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, who was covering the speech from France, called it the strongest speech of Trump’s presidency, and cited in particular the president’s kind words for allies. “I hope he means it,” Scarborough said.

Attorney George Conway – another critic and the husband of White House adviser Kellyanne Conway – tweeted: “Occasionally he’ll read lovely words off a TelePrompTer that someone else wrote but he doesn’t understand, and then within days he’ll say something that will remind us … he was just reading words off a TelePrompTer that someone else wrote but he doesn’t understand.”

The speech: 8 memorable moments from Trump’s D-Day address in Normandy

More newslettersEuropean allies made the D-Day landing at Normandy possible. 75 years later, Trump questions those bonds

No political storms in Normandy

The last time Trump visited France for an historic ceremony – in November for the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I – he and French President Emmanuel Macron argued publicly about Trump’s “America First” foreign policy.

On Thursday, both presidents stuck to the central theme of the soldiers’ sacrifices and their role in changing history with the defeat of Nazi Germany.

A day after tweets attacking singer-songwriter Bette Midler and Democrats in general, Trump’s social media posts Thursday dealt mostly with D-Day. He did veer off that message once: Attacking media coverage of his trip to Great Britain earlier this week.

The personal touch

Some of the most memorable parts of Trump’s speech were not rhetorical flourishes or stirring proclamations; they were the hugs and handshakes Trump gave to elderly veterans, many using wheelchairs to get around, after he spoke about their stories.

“Private Pickett, you honor us all with your presence,” Trump said after describing the heroism of Russell Pickett, a member of the fabled 29th Infantry Division that was among the first wave of soldiers to land on Normandy.

The speech: 8 memorable moments from Trump’s D-Day address in Normandy

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  • Some of the first assault troops to hit the beachhead hide behind enemy beach obstacles to fire on the Germans, on a Normandy beach, on June 6, 1944. Landing craft in background, trying to unload more troops.1 of 17
  • US soldiers wade through surf and German gunfire to secure a beachhead during the Allied Invasion, on the beaches of Normandy on June 6,1944. On June 6, 1944, on the first day of Operation Overlord, around 4,300 Allied personnel lost their lives serving their country in what would be the largest amphibious invasion ever launched. World leaders are to attend memorial events in Normandy, France on June 6, 2019 to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings.2 of 17
  • A handout photo made available by the US Army showing US soldiers of the 16th Infantry Regiment, wounded while storming Omaha Beach, waiting by the chalk cliffs for evacuation to a field hospital for treatment, on D-Day, Normandy, France, 06 June 1944.3 of 17
  •  British troops land on the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944 marking the commencement of D Day. 4 of 17
  • H.M.S. Warspite is shown shelling German invasion coast positions.5 of 17
  • Paratroopers of the Allied Army land on La Manche, on the coast of France on June 6, 1944 after Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches during D-Day. 6 of 17
  • Some of the first assault troops to hit the beachhead hide behind enemy beach obstacles to fire on the Germans, others follow the first tanks plunging through water towards the Normandy shore on June 6, 1944.7 of 17
  • Joseph Vaghi, a US Navy ensign, chats with residents of Colleville-Sur-Mer on June 6, 1944, after Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches during D-Day. 8 of 17
  • British paratroopers, their faces painted with camouflage paint, read slogans chalked on the side of a glider after Allied forces stormed the Normandy beaches during D-Day on June 6, 1944. 9 of 17
  • A convoy of US landing craft nears the beach during the Allied Invasion of Europe, on D-Day in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944.10 of 17
  • German troops surrender to US soldiers during the Allied Invasion of Europe, D-Day, in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944.11 of 17
  • Members of a landing party help injured US soldiers to safety on Utah Beach during the Allied Invasion of Europe, on D-Day in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944.12 of 17
  • Allied ships are attacked by German fighters as the largest massed assault of World War II begins to land men and supplies on the coast of northern France on June 6, 1944.13 of 17
  • Canadian soldiers land on Courseulles beach in Normandy as Allied forces storm the Normandy beaches on D-Day. 14 of 17
  • Allied forces soldiers land on a beach in Normandy, north-western France during D-Day. 15 of 17
  • US troops of the 4th Infantry Division Famous Fourth land on 'Utah Beach' as Allied forces storm the Normandy beaches on D-Day. 16 of 17
  • This file photograph taken on June 6, 1944, shows Allied forces soldiers during the D-Day landing operations in Normandy, north-western France.17 of 17

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