JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Somewhere between his first and second rallies, Donald Trump found his message.
If you listened to the GOP nominee on the trail Wednesday afternoon in Daytona, it seemed Donald Trump preferred his old controversies to the new ones dogging his campaign, rehashing comments about FOX News host Megyn Kelly and his mocking of a disabled reporter.
But by the time he took the stage in Jacksonville, Trump was consistent and hitting his more familiar talking points: Attacking Hillary Clinton on trade, arguing that NATO countries need to pay their fair share (“have they paid?" Trump asked), and criticizing the "incompetence" of America’s current leaders.
The Jacksonville crowd responded with enthusiasm, cheering "lock her up" and "USA!" to punctuate Trump’s points. IThe Daytona crowd, seeming to match the tenor of the candidate, raised a few more eyebrows. At one point, as Trump riffed on Hillary Clinton, a man shouted "waterboard her!" while others applauded him and chanted "lock her up!"
Off the trail, Trump’s party — and even his campaign — was providing the latest distraction from Trump’s jobs, trade, and security message.
Reports of discord within Trump’s internal ranks and Trump’s own comments that he was not yet ready to support fellow Republicans like Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. John McCain, and Sen. Kelly Ayotte launched the Republican Party into what felt like a civil war.
But Trump said in Daytona: "the campaign is doing really well ... it’s never been so well united."
In Jacksonville, Trump sought to mend fences with Gold Star families after days of controversy surrounding his comments about sacrifice to the Khan family, who lost their son in Iraq. Trump told the crowd he met with six families before the rally, and called them "incredible people" and "our best people."
Later in the rally, Trump struck a much different tone on sacrifice than he did over the weekend when one crowd goer called out to Trump to thank him for his sacrifice. "Thank you for your sacrifice,” he said, acknowledging "we’re all making sacrifices."
Prior to Wednesday, Trump had remained silent on the stump about the Khan controversy – instead furthering the story in interviews with local news outlets done between rallies.
But the conciliatory tone of Jacksonville stood in stark contrast to Trump careening off message just hours earlier in Daytona, reviving controversies since buried by time.
As Trump trashed ads made by the Hillary Clinton campaign that featured his comments about Megyn Kelly in the aftermath of the first Republican debate, he reminded the crowd one more time what he really meant by that comment about "blood coming out of her where ever."
"I meant her nose or her ears or her mouth," Trump told a rowdy Florida crowd. "But these people are perverted and they think it was another location."
Trump also sought to re-litigate the moment when he mocked a disabled reporter, Serge Kovaleski, during a campaign rally in South Carolina — a moment Trump explained once more as showing the crowd that the reporter was "groveling."
And a mention of "Pocahontas" reminded reporters and voters alike that even if Elizabeth Warren didn’t land the role of Clinton’s vice president, that the offensive moniker was sticking around through the general.
And while Trump seemed to have forgiven former rival Marco Rubio — he reminded the Daytona crowd to vote for him — not all primary vendettas died with the transition into the general.
Trump told crowds in Jacksonville and Daytona that his "biggest obstacle is the press." Returning to a full on blitz of the media at his evening rally, Trump told the energized crowd that the only way he can deal with it is to "bull your way through it."
"The press is more dishonest now than I’ve ever seen them," Trump told the crowd, building on his earlier points about how all news outlets are "bad."
"Is it an inferiority complex?" Trump wondered aloud as the crowd turned to the press and booed them from all sides. Moments before the rally, emails with the subject "MEDIA BIAS OF THE DAY" landed in reporters inboxes.
The GOP nominee capped off his day in Florida reminding voters to "get out and vote" in November, ending one of his most controlled rallies in weeks as any politician would.