This time around there was no escalator to carry him down, like Zeus descending from the heavens. There was an adoring crowd, though. There was some family, though not all of it. And there were flags — lots of flags!
A veritable army of flags stood sentry below the crystal chandeliers of the Mar-a-Lago ballroom, lining the stage in stars and stripes as Donald J. Trump declared his candidacy for president in 2024 in his matching bright red, too-long tie, blowzy blue suit (complete with American flag lapel pin) and white shirt.
Even before he started into his rambling, accusatory speech filled with revisionist history and dire warnings about “Marxists” and “globalists,” apocalyptic declarations of failure that only he could rectify and promises to “make American wealthy again,” the flags were the accessories that framed the story.
There they stood, a window dressing of patriotism to cover the dark cloud of impeachments, lawsuits and failed Trump-endorsed midterm candidates that hangs over his head. There they stood, as if to wash away the memories of the last flags that flew for Mr. Trump: the confederate flags and MAGA flags carried by the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. There they stood, as if to prove just how much he loves his country: not just one or two flags’ worth, but tons of flags’ worth.
They were a reminder of just how much Mr. Trump loved the pomp and circumstance attached to the presidency and how adept he was at wielding the scenography of state to his own ends. He said he wanted to keep the evening “elegant,” but the phrase that came to mind was déjà vu. A foreshadowing, perhaps, of the theater to come as he prepares to “fight more than anyone” to win back the office he lost in 2020, using every visual aid at his disposal.
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Mr. Trump always hewed to the idea that an image can be worth a whole stack of policy papers. He even reminded everyone of how he learned it in his speech, crowing over the “firing” of Speaker Nancy Pelosi as Republicans are on the verge of taking back the House of Representatives as if she had been a candidate on “The Apprentice.”
Still, all the flags couldn’t quite cover up the conspicuous absence of some Trump family members.
In the audience were his sons Barron and Eric (whom Mr. Trump perhaps unwittingly compared to Al Capone and Jesse James in his speech), along with Eric’s wife, Lara. Also his son-in-law Jared Kushner but not Ivanka, who played a starring role during Mr. Trump’s term in office but has announced via an Instagram story that she is bowing out of Season 2. And not Don Jr., though his fiancée, Kimberly Guilfoyle, was there. As for Tiffany, she was presumably on her honeymoon after her marriage last weekend.
Their absence may be the reason Mr. Trump skipped the family finale, usually de rigueur after any large political declaration, choosing instead to invite only Melania to join him onstage. Remember when everyone thought their marriage might end after he left office?
Amid the red, white and blue, she looked positively understated in a polka-dot blouse and white skirt, tucked-in and ready for business.
That her appearance and choice of costume also happened to make for a marked contrast with the recent showing of Casey DeSantis, the wife of Ron DeSantis, the Florida governor and potential Trump rival, who took to the stage after his electoral victory last week in an oddly prom-queen-like gold mermaid gown, was probably not a coincidence.
Odds are, it was a salvo.