NORTH CHARLESTON (AFP) - President Donald Trump tried to put a first month of tumult behind him on Friday (Feb 17), pitching himself as a champion of US jobs and industry during a visit to Boeing in South Carolina.
A day after a grievance-filled press conference that raised questions about his temperament, the real estate mogul got out of Washington, back to basics and back on script.
He visited North Charleston to renew his campaign vow to champion jobs and industry.
"As your president, I'm going to do everything I can to unleash the power of the American spirit and to put our great people back to work," Trump said.
"This is our mantra, 'buy American and hire American.' We want products made in America, made by American hands," he said, pledging to wean the country off imports.
On the campaign trail, Trump tapped a rich seam of unease among American workers.
Although the unemployment rate is at a low five per cent and wages are rising steadily, a triple whammy of deindustrialisation, globalisation and automation have hit the US heartland hard.
Trump repeatedly touted his business acumen and promised to transfer boardroom smarts to the Oval Office in order to bring back jobs.
But poor management and scandal have plagued his first month in office.
In four tumultuous weeks, Trump has seen his national security adviser Michael Flynn ousted, a cabinet nominee withdraw, a centrepiece immigration policy fail in the courts and a tidal wave of damaging leaks.
The perception of a White House in disarray was further fuelled as Trump's pick to replace Flynn, retired US Navy admiral Robert Harward, turned down the job, leaving a glaring hole in the National Security Council.
Trump said on Friday he was considering four new candidates, including acting advisor Keith Kellogg, a retired lieutenant general.
En route back to his Florida estate for the third consecutive weekend, Trump sought more familiar ground at Boeing.
The commander-in-chief appeared to be in his element, praising the roll-out of the 787-10, touring the cockpit and joking with Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg about negotiations for an order of F-18 Super Hornets.
"We are looking seriously at big order, and we will see how that - you know, the problem is that Dennis is a very, very tough negotiator. But I think we may get there," he said.
The US manufacturer employs some 7,500 people in South Carolina, where it has invested more than US$2 billion (S$2.8 billion) since beginning operations in the south-eastern state in 2009.
Trump's prescription to drain the pockets of economic malaise that dot the country has been to rip-up "bad trade deals" and an tougher tariffs on imports.
"We are going to enforce, very strongly, enforce our trade rules and stop foreign cheating - tremendous cheating, tremendous cheating," he said at Boeing.
He pledged to address that issue with a "very substantial penalty" on firms that take US knowhow and transplant production overseas.
"It has to be much easier to manufacture in our country and much harder to leave. I don't want companies leaving our country. Making their product, selling it back, no tax, no nothing, firing everybody in our country," he said.
That may be a winning approach politically, but few economists believe it would be good for Americans' pocket book.
Richard Baldwin, a professor of international economics at the Graduate Institute, Geneva recently accused Trump's team of pursuing "twentieth-century solutions for America's twenty-first-century industrial problems."
"In 2017, US workers are not competing with low-wage foreign labour, capital, and technology, as they did in the 1970s. Rather, they are competing with a nearly unbeatable combination of low-wage foreign labor and US knowhow."
Ironically, Boeing Dreamliner, which Trump declared a "great name," may be a case in point.
From nose to tail fin, many of the Boeing's components are made around the world: Wing tips in South Korea, the landing gear in England.
"If the Trump administration imposes tariffs, it will turn the US into a high-cost island for industrial inputs," said Baldwin.
"Firms might be induced to move some production back to the US, if it is strictly aimed at US consumers. But they will be equally encouraged to offshore production that is aimed at export markets."
On Friday evening Trump took to Twitter to again blast the media - casting several outlets as "the enemy of the American people" - and then heralding another campaign-style Florida rally scheduled for Saturday.
The former reality star will seek the cheers of his supporters in Orlando - a bid to restore momentum to his already embattled administration.