WASHINGTON — The president of the United States spoke for an hour on Thursday at the White House, a careening open-mike act that was by turns free-associative whirlwind, grievance fest, group shout-out and profane rant against his expanding inventory of political enemies — or, as he called them, “the crookedest, most dishonest, dirty people I have ever seen.”
“Let the healing begin” this was not.
Even by the standards of this most abnormal presidency, this was something. “You have to understand, we first went through Russia, Russia, Russia — it was all bullshit,” President Trump said on live television in the classical splendor of the East Room, referring to the special counsel’s investigation. He went on to call impeachment a “hoax” perpetrated by “dirty cops” and “leakers and liars” that began “from the day we came down the elevator” and “never really stopped.” (He presumably meant the escalator he rode at Trump Tower in 2015, when he announced he was running for president.)
The angry pep rally came a few hours after Mr. Trump served up a similar outburst at the National Prayer Breakfast. In between, Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a morning news conference and said that Mr. Trump had seemed “a little sedated” Tuesday night at his State of the Union speech (the one she tore to shreds). And in Iowa, there was continuing chaos as Tom Perez, the embattled chairman of the Democratic National Committee, called on the state Democratic Party to “immediately begin a recanvass” of its caucuses, which Mr. Trump had already called an “unmitigated disaster” — a statement that drew a rare measure of bipartisan agreement.
At this point, “not normal” feels a lot more like a permanent State of the Union. These first six weeks of 2020 have already made for an extraordinary year, and not in an uplifting way.
Iowa imploded on Monday, the president was acquitted on Wednesday, and then he embarked on his retribution tour on Thursday. At the prayer breakfast, he cast thinly veiled aspersions upon the faiths of his religious rivals, Ms. Pelosi and Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah.
As Trump-era spectacles go, the president’s State of the Union address followed a familiar pattern. He spoke long, as he does. He drew big cheers from the home team and extended silences from Democrats, who for the most part sat on their hands, if they even showed up at all.
Yet the Capitol really did seem primed for some measure of a reset. Before Mr. Trump arrived, you could sense lightness and even a whiff of relief on the floor. There was laughing and grinning and shoulder squeezes, even some across the partisan canyon. Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and formerly the lead impeachment manager, parked himself halfway up a right-hand aisle and received a procession of man hugs and handshakes from caucus well-wishers.
Mr. Romney, who on Wednesday became the first Republican senator in American history to vote to remove a president of his party from office, presented on Tuesday the only remaining wild card in an otherwise certain impeachment vote scheduled for the next day. Mr. Romney chatted warmly with his colleague and seatmate, Senator Lamar Alexander, Republican of Tennessee, who a few days earlier had said he would vote to acquit the president on both impeachment counts.
At center aisle, Representative Louie Gohmert, the rabble-rousing Republican of Texas, shared a big hug with Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa, who a few days earlier had suggested that Republicans might move swiftly to impeach a future president, Joseph R. Biden Jr. She later said her remarks were “taken entirely out of context,” but whatever. This might be getting ahead of ourselves, as Iowa voters appeared to indicate in their assessment of Mr. Biden, who did not do well in the caucuses. The counting continues there.
“We turn the page officially tomorrow,” Senator Mike Braun, Republican of Indiana, promised as he walked through the Capitol Rotunda late Tuesday after the State of the Union speech. He meant, presumably, that Mr. Trump would be officially acquitted the next day, but Mr. Braun also appeared to intend something more sweeping.
“I think we really do turn the page; I really believe that,” Mr. Braun said again, maybe sensing the skepticism of his listeners. He sounded almost plaintive when he said it a third time.
But turn the page to what, exactly? This would imply that the current crop of Democrats and Republicans in Washington could ever find themselves in the same general library of the same page. In that regard, the Iowa fiasco represented a kind of ideal, American democracy on full display at its most broken. Why should Washington keep all the “broken” for itself?
“Great speech,” Senator Mitch McConnell, the Republican majority leader, said as he shuffled through National Statuary Hall, the marbled chamber in the Capitol clogged with grand sculptures, stone-faced lawmakers and many television cameras. Flush from the special “thank you, Mitch” from the president during his address, Mr. McConnell seemed chatty, for him. “Great speech,” he said again.
This was not a point of unanimous assent.
“It was a dark and frightening and cringe-worthy speech,” countered Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, walking a few paces behind Mr. McConnell. He charged Mr. Trump with “having no class whatsoever”— not an impeachable offense, per se, but to his mind the prevailing tone of the evening, and our times.
There might have been a time, theoretically, when big presidential spectacles like this could provide affirming set pieces of tradition. So, in their own ways, could quirky events like the Iowa caucuses. But steady is never how it goes anymore, here or in Iowa. You learn to condition expectations.
In the East Room on Thursday, Mr. Trump circled back to claim that he had gotten “a phony rotten deal” from “some very rotten and sick people.” But then his verbal hurricane tapered off. He wore a quizzical expression, as though a random thought had popped into his head.
“I’m really not a bad person,” Mr. Trump said, interrupting his own riff against the “top scum” of the F.B.I.
“This is a day of celebration,” he concluded at what appeared to be the end, after showering bizarre praise upon his favorite Republican back stoppers like Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio (“He’s obviously very proud of his body”) and Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House Republican whip who survived a shooting in 2018 (“I think you set a record for blood loss”).
It would have been a sweet note to end the pep rally, to conclude an exhausting period that had surely just begun. But the president opted for something else.
“We’ve been through hell,” he reminded his friends.