After bizarre speech, Boy Scouts of America distances itself from Trump

Another norm, shattered.

CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
CREDIT: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

President Trump gave a stunningly political speech to tens of thousands of 11-to-18-year-olds at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia on Monday night, prompting the Boy Scouts of America to distance itself from the spectacle on Tuesday morning.

At various points during his speech, Trump criticized prominent Democrats; blasted “fake news” and “fake polls;” told Scouts that “under the Trump administration, you’ll be saying Merry Christmas again when you go shopping;” characterized Obamacare as “a horrible thing… that’s really hurting us” and threatened to fire his Health and Human Services Secretary if he didn’t succeed in repealing it.

This video captures some of it:

At another point, Trump shared a meandering story about a wealthy developer who sold his business, bought a big yacht, got “bored” with his debauched life of “yachts and sailing and all of the things he did in the south of France and other places,” and then ultimately decided to buy his business back.

Trump conflated his politics with the values and work of the Scouts. Despite the fact that most in the audience would have been too young to vote last fall, he portrayed his victory in the presidential election as “an unbelievable tribute to you and all of the other millions and millions of people that voted to make American great again.”

Scouts gave Trump’s speech a rousing reception.

Presidents have been speaking to the Jamboree for 80 years. As the Washington Post notes, before Trump, presidents usually studiously avoided politics during their speeches.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the occasion to talk about good citizenship. Harry S. Truman extolled fellowship: “When you work and live together, and exchange ideas around the campfire, you get to know what the other fellow is like,” he said.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower invoked the “bonds of common purpose and common ideals.” And President George H.W. Bush spoke of “serving others.”

Trump destroyed that norm. His speech was widely and swiftly condemned by former Scouts.

On Tuesday morning, the Boy Scouts of America released a statement that stops short of criticizing the president, but distances the organization from Trump’s speech.

“The Boy Scouts of America is wholly non-partisan and does not promote any position, product, service, political candidate or philosophy,” it says. “The invitation for the sitting U.S. President to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition and is in no way an endorsement of any political party of specific politics.”

“The sitting U.S. President serves as the BSA’s honorary president,” it adds. “It is our long-standing custom to invite the U.S. President to the National Jamboree.”

Since his inauguration, Trump has repeatedly shown disrespect for the independence of historically independent institutions, ranging from the free press to law enforcement to the military.

UPDATE (7/27, 1 p.m.): In a statement released Thursday, Michael Surbaugh, chief scout executive for the Boy Scouts of America, apologized to scouts for Trump’s “political rhetoric” at the Jamboree.

From Surbaugh’s statement:

I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree. That was never our intent. The invitation for the sitting U.S. President to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition that has been extended to the leader of our nation that has had a Jamboree during his term since 1937. It is in no way an endorsement of any person, party or policies. For years, people have called upon us to take a position on political issues, and we have steadfastly remained non-partisan and refused to comment on political matters. We sincerely regret that politics were inserted into the Scouting program.

UPDATE (7/27, 3 p.m.): Shortly after Surbaugh released his statement, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was asked if Trump owes the Boy Scouts an apology during the White House press briefing.

Sanders said she hadn’t read the statement, but indicated she doesn’t think Trump has anything to apologize about.

“I was at that event, and I saw nothing but roughly 40-to-45,000 Boy Scouts cheering the president on throughout his remarks, and I think they were pretty excited that he was there and happy to hear him speak to them,” she said, before going on to describe Trump’s audience at the Jamboree as “one of the most energetic crowds I’ve seen in front of the president.”