After putting the public through what’s felt like a marathon test of endurance, Donald Trump finally proved there actually might be some benefits to his often false and always nonstop frenzied tweeting. Though he’s more than continued his habit of publicly venting his frustrations into the new year—the phrase “WITCH HUNT!” and an assertion that the media has “gone CRAZY!” were just a couple of the remarks he made in the past week alone—Trump seems to have exhausted himself on the platform. Of course, that meant he simply turned to another one, which thankfully turned out to be much more pleasant: a sudden stab at being a comedian, expressing a sense of humor about the calamities left in his wake for what felt like the first time ever.
The setting for his remarks, at least, was most definitely a first: by joining D.C. society names and journalists who attend the annual Gridiron Club Dinner on Saturday night, a lighthearted, Whitehouse Correspondents’ Dinner-like affair, he and his wife finally made their debut into the traditional Washington social circuit, more than a year after he took office. Since the crowd was made up of exactly the type of people he’s made a point not to cater to, his humorous turn seemed much less likely to be for them, but simply for his exhausted self, especially after a particularly rough week that saw advances into the Russia investigation he so detests and his loss of yet another staffer in those making a mass exodus from the White House, particularly since it was his prized communication director, Hope Hicks.
Careful to keep things at least a bit on brand, Trump characteristically kicked things off with a bit of egotistical fake news: “My staff was concerned that I couldn’t do self-deprecating humor, and I told them not to worry: Nobody does self-deprecating humor better than I do.” Surprisingly, though, over the course of the night, such a declaration seemed to be increasingly true—so much so that CNN, Trump’s most hated news outlet, actually compiled a list of his top jokes from the event. (Don’t get your hopes up—they’re not actually that good.)
Trump likely succeeded in large part because he stuck to subjects he knows: the New York Times, Jeff Sessions, Dreamers, North Korea—you know the drill. It was when he went out on a limb, though, that Trump’s remarks became most delightful, because even though he’d intended them to be, they in fact weren’t even jokes in the first place, but rather what seemed to be a rare showing of honesty and alarm at the unbelievable spectacle that is his presidency. Trump may have yet to release a statement on Jared Kushner‘s recently downgraded security level, for example, but on Saturday night he definitely seemed to confirm the rumors that he’s been increasingly distancing himself from his son-in-law when he turned him into the butt of one of his “jokes”: “I wanted to apologize for arriving a little bit late. You know, we’re late tonight because Jared could not get through the security,” he said, unconvincingly adding that Kushner was nevertheless a “great guy.”
Trump also dared to address an issue even more concerning than mass exodus from the White House: the possibility of impeachment, which he last properly addressed all the way back in 2014, quite ironically asking, “Are you allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence?” about Barack Obama. (Twitter users have of course delighted in retweeting it practically ever since Trump took office.)
Perhaps to get a head start on the chance it may come up, just as he did in repeatedly asserting that votes weren’t reliable before he won the election, Trump actually decided to tackle the issue—again, quite surprisingly, poking fun at it. He began his bit by saying that vice president Mike Pence has “been showing a particularly keen interest in the news these days,” starting out “each morning asking everyone, ‘Has he been impeached yet?'” (Pence was ultimately, of course, the butt of his joke: Trump went on to claim his own response has been ‘Mike, you can’t be impeached when there’s no crime. Please remember that.'”)
Trump didn’t stop there—his most daring victim was yet to come, as he moved on to addressing his wife. “So many people have been leaving the White House—it’s actually been really exciting and invigorating because you want new thought,” he said. “I like turnover. I like chaos. It really is good. Now the question everyone keeps asking is, ‘Who is going to be the next to leave? Steve Miller or Melania?'”
Sure, Miller is fair (and definitely less dangerous) game—Trump has room to joke about his trusted advisor, as well of course to suspect that Miller may leave him after Hicks’ unexpected exit just last week. The idea of Melania leaving the White House, on the other hand, is far from outlandish, and only adds fuel to the fire that he and the first lady have been increasingly rocky—particularly since the publication of a story last month that alleged Trump had an affair with the Playboy playmate Karen McDougal, and kept her disturbingly close to Melania.
Melania has always appeared to be on the frostier side with her husband: She’s famously unafraid to swat away his hand in front of the cameras, and counts her wish to retreat to a “deserted island” as one of her few public remarks. (It was only last week, after all, that we got a glimpse at the biggest grin ever spotted on her face while next to her husband—and perhaps even simply while in the public eye—which was quite oddly took place at Billy Graham’s funeral.)
Following the story about McDougal, Melania publicly kept her distance from Trump for a time, just as she did following the aftermath of reports of Trump’s alleged affair with Stormy Daniels in January. If this pattern continues, things certainly do not bode well for the couple in the rest of 2018. Never mind endangering his marriage, though—we all know that Trump’s most important relationship has always been with his audience. (Along with, of course, anything he can eventually spin into bragging material.)