Paul Irving, the House sergeant at arms, stepped inside the House of Representatives chamber Tuesday night and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, the President of the United States.”
Then Donald Trump walked in.
Just over an hour later, the brash New York City businessman, for the very first time, it would later be remarked, left the chamber as president of the United States.
It was that good a night for President Trump.
From the moment he made his entrance a few minutes after 9 p.m. Tuesday, one could tell something was different. For one thing, Trump had on a blue-and-white striped tie. Where did that come from? And how silly the Trump acolytes scattered throughout the hall — in blue suits, white shirts and solid red ties — must have felt.
And where was Eliot Engel? You know, the mustachioed Bronx congressman whose perennial schtick is to crowd the entranceway at States of the Union to get a televised grip-and-grin with a president, any president, except this one evidently. Engel was nowhere to be found. He may never be seen again.
Then there were the seated congresswomen in white. Their monochromatic protest was supposed to conjure suffragettes of a century ago. But in all candor, and I hate to sound unkind here, they looked more like a religious order that had been bused in to observe the proceedings. Perhaps a church choir. (A few of them later stood and clapped once or twice, which I thought dignified and polite.)
Trump strode to the microphone and began his first address to a Joint Session of Congress by talking about . . . Black History Month and anti-Semitism. One could be forgiven for grunting “huh” under his breath on a couch at home.
But it was the moment — the profoundly extended moment — where the president interacted with Carryn Owens, wife of recently slain Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, that transformed Trump into a commander-in-chief, CNN commentator Van Jones would say. Her tears, an ovation that felt like it would last forever and Trump’s genuine demonstration of compassion toward Owens was a remarkable American moment. The president gave U.S. Navy special operator, Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens, and his family the thanks of a grateful nation they are owed.
The nuts and bolts of the speech itself were very good and interesting. Trump reminded us, in a disciplined speech, that he is a political hybrid of the likes this country hasn’t seen in a long time. He has something for everyone — tax cuts, defense spending increases, border control and Obamacare repeal of sorts for Republicans, and for Democrats a $1 trillion public-private infrastructure plan, trade protectionism, protection of status quo Social Security and Medicare and, potentially he floated before the speech, a path to legalization for immigrants here illegally.
Two things could happen: Democrats and Republicans could decide to deal with this anomaly of a president and each take what they can get. Or both parties could take hard lines and kneecap Trump’s presidency. A third and more likely outcome would be a little of both.
What become miraculously clear from the speech is that Trump is capable of rising to the presidency and accomplishing significant things. Like him or not, we should hope and/or pray that the president we saw Tuesday night decides to stick around.
That’s the man we need.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.