WASHINGTON – This could have been the White House’s most anticipated Turkey Pardon Ceremony.
For starters, President Trump has barely been seen without golf clubs since polling day. The annual ritual of sparing two turkeys therefore offered a rare chance to spot the lame duck head in public.
“Thanksgiving is a very special day for turkeys,” the president said in the rose garden Tuesday afternoon. “Not very good, if you think about it.” Except for two happy feathered recipients of the president’s largesse.
It was almost normal, refreshing pro forma. With a taste for staging, Mr. Trump had always seemed in his element on these cornball occasions, regardless of the other turmoil that came to shake his presidency at the moment.
But Mr Trump’s recent reclusion had also given the festivities a measure of Groundhog Day drama: Would President Punxsutawney have a light and conciliatory tone, signaling a period of smooth transition to the Biden administration? Or would he continue with the provocative and resentful posture he has displayed in the more than 550 tweets he has triggered since November 3, securing several more disruptive weeks of a presidency in a gloomy winter?
The cliffhanger has imbued White House hokey lore with real theaters – just as the emcee relishes it. Speculation had swirled in recent days that the President could make inflammatory news by forgiving humans like Paul Manafort (his former campaign chairman, convicted of tax and bank fraud) with his innocent feathered friends Corn and Cob (imported of Iowa, 42 and 41 pounds, with 35 and 34 inch wings).
If nothing else, the show offered respite from the daily onslaught of Mr. Trump’s legal challenges, as well as carefully produced announcements from new officials in President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s cabinet – including several were introduced in Wilmington, Del., as the President and First Lady Melania Trump made their way to the rose garden around 2:30 p.m.
The President began by announcing again that the Dow Jones Industrial Average had passed 30,000 for the first time. (He had first announced it an hour and a half earlier in an appearance in the White House briefing room that only lasted a minute.) Although the market seemed to react to With the government services administration’s decision on Monday night that the transition to the Biden administration could officially begin, Mr. Trump has shrouded himself in the news.
“I just want to congratulate everyone,” Mr. Trump said, a throwback to pre-election days, where he constantly bragged about the performance of the stock market, as if it offered running testament to his performance in power.
Voters have since handed down a tougher verdict. The past few weeks have clearly been tough for a president whose definition of “winner” has been marred by a string of court defeats, rising voting deficits and the scattered dropouts of former Republican allies.
At the very least, the White House turkey lore offered the comfort of ritual. It was started by President Truman in 1947, although President Kennedy was the first to spare the Honored Bird. President Bush was the first to officially use the word “forgiveness” in 1989.
Mr Trump wore a navy blue overcoat and a bright red tie in the cool late November afternoon. He made no mention of the election or the president-elect. He sounded mildly subdued but mostly in a decent spirit.
He described it as “a very unusual moment” which seemed quite fitting.
“We are here to carry on a beloved annual tradition,” said the president, opening the feathered portion of the ceremony.
He mentioned that Corn and Cob had been selected from a presidential herd that included some “real beauties” and noted that they were from Iowa.
“I love the state of Iowa,” Mr. Trump said, as butter in the butterball house. (He’s said to be planning a comeback campaign in 2024.)
“We love our farmers,” he added, for good measure.
After a few minutes, the President and the First Lady stepped out from behind the Rose Garden podium and approached the guest of honor.
“Look at this beautiful, magnificent bird,” Mr. Trump said in surprise, pointing to Corn, who was perched a few meters away. (Cob was not immediately visible to spectators.)
“Oh, he’s a lucky bird,” he continued. “Sensational.”
“Thank you, Corn,” Mr. Trump said, briefly resting his indulgent hand on his recipient’s rich white plume.
The President and the First Lady waved to the friendly crowd as they took their leave of Corn, who at that point managed a brief serenade of swallows.
Mr. Trump put his thumb up for the cameras and did not respond to two questions shouted by reporters: one about whether he could invite Mr. Biden for a visit to the White House and the another on whether he could forgive himself soon.
At the same event last year, the President said: “I expect this forgiveness to be very popular with the media. After all, turkeys are closely related to vultures.
In other words, Mr. Trump had compared reporters to vultures.