Would the signature Trump bling break through the looming gray clouds on the night of his administration’s first state dinner? The answer on Tuesday was yes.
On an already symbolic evening that carried the added pressure of being the Trumps’ foray into official diplomatic branding, the first couple managed to pull off the glitzy party in honor of French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife, Brigitte, without any major glitches. There were the bigwigs gussied up in black tie, the fine china decorated in gold, the long red carpet, the thoughtful toasts. All in all it was a state dinner, but in and of itself that is something.
Remember back on the campaign trail when then-candidate Trump denounced state dinners altogether? Speaking about “China and others” who allegedly “ripped off” the United States, Trump said that the White House should “forget the state dinners that cost, by the way, a fortune.” Hamburgers, which the POTUS unabashedly enjoys, and a conference table were all the pomp and circumstance he needed, so the campaign bombast went, to iron things out.
My, how things have changed. Turns out a little grandeur is good for the gander.
In the leadup to the Trumps’ debut as a diplomatic duo, much was made of Mrs. Trump’s taste, her classiness, her “design background,” her general elegance. The night was basically marketed as Melania’s moment — an opportunity for the first lady, who has appeared reluctant in the role, to show off a little. She tweeted about the “months of preparation” her team had put in and even posted a brief behind-the-scenes video showing the East Wing hard at work. This was her chance to shine. So did she?
Melania Trump, a former model, made her grand entrance on the North Portico of the White House wearing haute couture Chanel. The silver frock was hand painted and embroidered with crystals and sequins. The choice was unsurprisingly high fashion (a black Givenchy tuxedo cape and custom-made Hervé Pierre hat also made cameos during this visit) and Mrs. Trump seemed wholly at ease in the part she played Tuesday night.
The president made it a point to highlight the first lady’s efforts during his opening toast.
“To America’s absolutely incredible first lady, thank you for making this an evening we will always cherish and remember,” said Trump in a toast that went on to honor America and France’s centuries-long friendship and encouraged the two countries to “work together every day to build a future that is more just, prosperous and free.”
When second lady Karen Pence was asked by the waiting press pool how Mrs. Trump was doing as first lady, Vice President Pence answered for her: “Breathtaking,” he said as the second couple made their way to the State Dining Room, a formal and intimate setting. So it would seem that the first lady earned a solid A-plus for her first diplomatic outing.
The rest of the 130 or so guests appeared more taken with the French than anything else.
Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) said he planned “to thank the people of France for selling Louisiana to the United States.”
When asked if she spoke French, the president’s elder daughter, Ivanka Trump, special adviser to 45, answered, “Oui, un petit peu.” Translation: “Yes, a little bit.”
Instagram’s favorite political spouse Louise Linton, who arrived wearing a Cavalli gown and her husband, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, said she was looking forward to “everything French.”
Earlier in the evening, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams struck a more serious note. He said he was excited about chatting about the opioid epidemic with the French president. Okay, at least someone there meant business. Adams’s wife Lacey, though, was less diplomatic: “I want to see who’s on the guest list.” Don’t we all.
The list was fairly standard for events like these, filled mostly with White House officials, Cabinet members, the diplomatic corps and a smattering of surprise faces.
CIA Director Mike Pompeo breezed past the press without answering any questions about his nomination for secretary of state. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards was one of the few Democrats who made the cut. Apple CEO Tim Cook brought along former Obama administration EPA chief and current Apple environmental director Lisa Jackson. Media mogul Rupert Murdoch arrived with his wife, former model Jerry Hall, who said she was looking forward to “seeing the French president.” Managing head of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde, who is French, was slightly less enthusiastic. “This is my third French dinner,” she said.
The most unexpected (and perhaps joy-filled) moment came when a seemingly unrecognizable couple arrived at the White House. (Don’t worry: their last name wasn’t Salahi.)
“Are we supposed to stop?” asked the man as he conferred with the woman standing next to him. To help jog the press’s memory “in case you guys don’t know who we are,” the pair pulled two giant medals seemingly out of nowhere. Still nothing? Remember the Olympics? In South Korea? Which would have been a “total failure” without President Trump? These two — curler John Shuster and ice hockey player Meghan Duggan — were there and won gold.
So do you guys travel with those everywhere? “Pretty much,” said a laughing Shuster before eventually heading down a hallway decorated with giant sprays of nearly 1,200 cherry blossom branches to the State Dining Room. Dripping with the first couple’s particular brand of style, which leans heavily toward the ornate, the room was decorated in cream and gold. Tall tapered candles illuminated tables draped with heavy damask-like tablecloths placed with china that included a 24-karat gold engraved pattern introduced by then-first lady Hillary Clinton. Low-set tightly massed centerpieces of sweet peas and white lilacs decorated each table. Menu cards embossed with a gold fleur de lis were a nod to the guests of honor. The effect was understated but with a touch of that recognizable Trump flash.
The three-course meal — “a showcase of the best of America’s cuisines,” according to the East Wing — featured rack of lamb served alongside jambalaya, a traditional Louisiana dish with heavy French influences. The Washington Post’s food critic Tom Sietsema described the main course as “a lovely nod to the American South.” The wine that was paired with dinner all hailed from the West Coast and not from the president’s own winery in central Virginia.
After dinner, the Washington National Opera entertained guests. Another big fan of opera? Jacqueline Kennedy, one of the past first ladies who Mrs. Trump has said she admires (the other being Michelle Obama).
The night was a success for the Trumps as much as for the Macrons — two couples who, according to the French president’s own toast, have disrupted the establishment. “On both sides of the ocean,” Macron said, “some two years ago very few would have bet on us being here together today. But as matter of fact, we share the same determination and the willingness.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Jerome Adams as the attorney general of the United States. He is the 20th U.S. surgeon general. The post has been updated.