When inspired to post on his alternative social network, Truth Social, Donald J. Trump can usually be relied upon to give a grand performance involving much raging and gnashing of teeth.
On Tuesday night, however, after promising to deliver "a live and full 'Play by Play' analysis" of the State of the Union, the former president was uncommonly reserved, with his most barbed commentary extending to President Joe Biden's repeated use of the word "folks."
"Too much use of the word 'folks!'" Trump groused early into the speech.
Then, 30 minutes later: "Again, folks, folks, folks-can't be written into the Speech, can it? If so, let's blame the Speechwriters!"
And 10 minutes after that: "Keeps using the word "Folks"-must be a nervous habit! We should all sit down and talk to him about this."
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Trump's tone of feigned concern for Biden suffused much of his coverage. "He seems to be very angry, shouting into the mic, when he's trying to come across as conciliatory," he wrote at one point. "Perhaps somebody should walk up to the dais, tap him on the shoulder, and say, 'Be cool!'"
But the former president insisted repeatedly that he wanted his successor to do well. In the announcement of his plan to live-tweet the proceedings, Trump remarked, "If properly done, and if Joe has just a modestly good night, this speech has the opportunity to rival any of the World's great orators, including, Lincoln, Washington, and, of course, the late, great, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Sir Winston Churchill."
Trump's professed confidence in Biden seemed to falter as the speech went on. "Having a hard time getting the words out, even though the Fake News will credit him with one of the Great Speeches of all time," he crowed. "I really want to see him improve. Come one Joe, you can do it!"
Throughout the night, he occasionally jumped in to correct Biden as he misspoke, pointing out the garbled phrase "'American automobiles couldn't make enough cars!'" and calling him out for referring to Chuck Schumer as "the minority leader."
But any MAGA fans hoping to see the former president double down on clowning on his rival were destined for disappointment, with Trump writing as the speech neared its end, "He's doing better now, far fewer stumbles!"
When he was able to tear his eyes away from Biden, Trump bounced around the House chamber, commenting on everyone from Kevin McCarthy ("having a seriously hard time staying awake") to Pete Buttigieg ("'But-edge-edge'"), and from Elizabeth Warren ("really going wild tonight") to Mitt Romney ("jumping up and down with applause for the wrong reasons!").
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And of a certain Ohio senator, Trump simply noted, "J.D. Vance is looking good!" (The compliment was in keeping with Trump's previous tributes to Vance, with two people telling The Daily Beast last year that the former president had repeatedly called him "a handsome son of a bitch" in private.)
Despite the blunted line of attack, Trump's followers on Truth Social flooded in to watch his commentary unfurl-with the website at one point crashing from the increased traffic, according to liberal political action committee MeidasTouch.
Trump only occasionally dipped into a tone of moral outrage, most often when he perceived Biden taking credit "for many of the things that the Trump Administration started," as he wrote. Never one to pass up an opportunity for a zinger, he added, "They just happened to kick in during this period-but who can blame him!"
As the House chamber was slowly emptying out at the end of the night, Trump's team posted a pre-recorded video of his "response" to the State of the Union on Twitter. In the two-minute clip, Trump came closer to the fiery heights he'd promised his followers he'd reach hours earlier.
"Here's the real State of the Union," Trump said. "Over the past two years under Biden, millions and millions of illegal aliens from 160 different countries have stormed across our southern border. Drug cartels are now raking in billions of dollars from smuggling poison to kill our people and to kill our children."
Going on to invoke so-called waves of "savage killers, rapists, and violent criminals... being released from jail," Trump shifted to accusing the Biden administration of "waging war on free speech."
"They're trying to indoctrinate and mutilate our children," the former president thundered. "He's leading us to the brink of world war three. And on top of all of that he's the most corrupt president in American history, and it's not even close."
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