By Claire Zillman
January 26, 2018

DAVOS, Switzerland—Donald Trump is a fan of big crowds. He got a sizable one in Switzerland on Friday.

The president made his debut at the World Economic Forum in Davos to a full conference hall, with a speech that touted the U.S. as “open for business.”

Ahead of the address, the conference buzzed with speculation of how the president, elected to office on an “America First” platform, would play on a stage built to toast global integration. Had Trump traveled to the snowy Swiss town to thumb his nose at the global elites? Or would Trump seek to appease an audience that had, just a year ago, recoiled at his election and the era of American protectionism it seemed to usher in?

In the end, the president used the platform as the White House had promised: to sell the world on investing in the U.S.

“There’s never been a better time to hire, to build, to invest and to grow in the United States,” Trump said on stage.

Here’s how he made his pitch:

1.) U.S. Economic Growth Is Strong

Trump heralded the U.S.’s strong economic growth and pointed to the healthy stock market. It’s “smashing one record after another,” he said. Last week, the Dow broke the 26,000 mark for the first time.

Trump arrives at Davos with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Thursday.
Fabrice Coffrini—AFP/Getty Images

There was an upbeat air to the conference in Davos this week, thanks in part to the robust world economy. A CEO survey out Monday showed optimism among chief executives at an all-time high.

But the gathering was peppered with some skepticism. On a panel that directly followed Trump’s address, International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde said that while U.S. tax reform may have positive effects in the short-term, farther out “it might also lead to serious risks,” she said. She also cited growing inequality, geopolitics, and a lack of global cooperation as problematic in the longer-term.

2.) Tax Cuts and Regulation Rollback Make the U.S. Attractive

Trump, meanwhile, used the new tax law as one of his selling points. He said the reforms passed last month will help America’s working class and small businesses “keep more of their hard-earned money.” All week, his delegation touted the corporate response to the reforms. Walmart and Starbucks have said they’re raising worker wages as a result of the legislation. Trump name-dropped Apple and the hundreds of billions of dollars in cash it says it will now repatriate.

He also boasted about his administration’s efforts to reduce regulation as he maligned the “unelected bureaucrats” who “imposed restrictions with no vote, no legislation, and no accountability.”

“Now is the perfect time to bring your business, your jobs, and your investment to the U.S.,” Trump said.

3.) Remaking Trade Policy Is a Good Thing for All

Ahead of the speech, CEOs told Fortune that they wanted more clarity on Trump’s stance on trade, after the administration gave mixed messages at Davos following its decision to introduce tariffs on imported solar panels and washing machines earlier this week. The president touched on the issue on Friday, telling the Davos audience that his ‘America First’ mantra “doesn’t mean America alone.” He positioned his administration’s attempts to “reform international trading systems” as a source of prosperity beyond U.S. borders.

“Restoring integrity to trading system,” he said, will “create a system that works not only for U.S. but for all nations.”

And Trump seemed to take a softer tone toward multilateral trade pacts. (He notably yanked the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership last year.) Trump said he’s prepared to negotiate agreements with TPP countries, “individually or as a broad group.”

Trump Stuck to the Script

Ahead of Trump’s speech, there were reports of plans for a walkout over the president’s earlier comment calling some countries “shithole” nations, but in the conference hall on Friday there were no visible signs of a coordinated protest.

Trump stuck to the script too, reading from his prepared remarks and refraining from off-handed comments that have often marked his public addresses.

The president on Friday predicted that his “positive message” to the World Economic Forum would be “very well received.” The crowd was largely restrained, applauding at the end of the address as is typical for the meeting of world leaders, corporate executives, and academics.

But there were audible hisses and boos during a Q&A that followed, when Trump—unleashed from the teleprompter—re-upped his trademark criticism of the “fake” press.


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