There was one moment in President Trump's speech to a joint session of Congress Tuesday night that people will remember for a very long time. It came when Trump honored the wife of Navy SEAL Ryan Owens, who was killed in a raid in Yemen last month....Taking these in order:
Two important things happened there.
1. Trump rapidly grasped that this was a real moment — and he didn't step on it by trying to immediately return to his speech. Lots of politicians, obsessed with making sure they got the speech out in the allotted time, would have moved on too quickly — missing the resonance of the cascades of applause that washed over the rawly emotional Carryn Owens. Trump understands moments; he stepped away from the podium, looked to Owens and just clapped. For the better part of two minutes, the only thing you heard in the room was loud applause and the only thing you saw was Owens crying and looking heavenward. Very powerful stuff....
2. Trump showed some grace. There has never been any question that Donald Trump is happiest when people are talking about, looking at and generally obsessed with Donald Trump. He's never shown much grace in the public eye, often exhibiting a sort of ham-handedness in situations where some delicacy is required. But not Tuesday night. Trump, dare I say, gracefully handed the spotlight to Owens — even taking a few steps back to let her have that moment. For a candidate, a man and a president who has shown a stunning inability to ever make it about anyone other than him, it was a very deft move.
1. So now it's a special gift to know that one shouldn't try to talk over a crying widow receiving a round of applause? What president, in the course of a major address, would have done that? What president would have tried to take the spotlight back? Barack Obama? George W. Bush? I can't imagine it. Cillizza is giving Trump an A here for doing what any other president would do out of instinct and common courtesy.
2. The more important point is that what Cillizza interpreted as grace was actually Trump endeavoring to sustain the moment for his own benefit. We know this from two things that happened, neither of which Cillizza mentions.
First, in the prepared text, we have Trump using the moment to insist that the raid was wildly successful and vitally necessary, contrary to most reports. The Yemen raid, for Trump, is now what the election results were a couple of weeks ago -- an event about which he finds the facts intolerable, so he insists on new facts. Here's how Trump began his tribute to the Owenses:
We are blessed to be joined tonight by Carryn Owens, the widow of U.S. Navy special operator, Senior Chief William “Ryan” Owens. Ryan died as he lived, a warrior and a hero, battling against terrorism and securing our nation.This isn't about either Owens. It's about Trump.
I just spoke to our great General [Jim] Mattis just now who reconfirmed that, and I quote, “Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemy.”
Ryan’s legacy is etched into eternity. Thank you.
And when a weeping Carryn Owens received a sustained ovation, Trump stood at the podium, relentlessly trying to drive it on . When it began to die down, he said:
And Ryan is looking down right now. You know that. And he’s very happy, because I think he just broke a record.Translation: Thanks to him, I broke a record. Has any president ever had as long an ovation in the middle of a speech as I just did?
That's what this moment was about for Trump. But to Cillizza, "in that moment with Carryn Owens, he showed the best of what he can be."
Then again, maybe that's an accurate assessment. Maybe "the best of what [Trump] can be" is still a vengeance-driven narcissist.