President Trump did what he does best on Friday afternoon in a speech to the National Rifle Association: He trolled other politicians.
“I have a feeling that in the next election you’re going to be swamped with candidates,” Trump told the crowd. “You’ll have plenty of those Democrats coming over and you’ll say ‘No sir. No ma’am, perhaps ma’am. It may be Pocahontas, remember that. And she is not big for the NRA that I can tell you.”
(“Pocahontas” is Trump’s derogatory nickname for Warren who faced a major controversy when she ran for the Senate in 2012 over whether she had Native American roots.)
Then there was Trump’s reference to former presidential primary rival Ted Cruz, who was in the audience as the president spoke. “Like, dislike, like,” Trump said by way of describing the arc of his relationship with the man he regularly referred to as “Lyin’ Ted” during the course of the primary race.
That Trump says those sorts of things – even in front of a red-meat-loving crowd like the NRA – is notable. It’s hard to imagine Barack Obama or George W. Bush or, well, any other past president saying that kind of stuff about former opponents (and maybe future ones) in public. (Richard Nixon has plenty to say about people behind the scenes.)
What’s more telling to me, however, is how Trump absolutely revels in the reaction he gets from taking these sorts of shots. Go back and watch the video above. Notice how Trump, theatrically, lets the crowd soak in the Warren attack and then begin to applaud. Right after he makes the comments about Cruz, there are a few excited gasps in the crowd.
That reaction is what Trump lives for. He is one part performer, one part provocateur and one part politician – and probably in that order of importance. He likes to, in the parlance of the Internet, troll people – go after a point of perceived weakness or insecurity relentlessly and without remorse.
And he’s incredibly good at it. Think back to the 2016 race. What were Trump’s best – or at least most memorable – lines? “Low Energy” Jeb Bush. “Little Marco” Rubio. “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz. “Crooked Hillary” Clinton. All nicknames designed to troll an opponent, to throw them off their game. To make them feel unsettled.
It’s harder as president to troll your political opponents. Giving, say, Kim Jong Un a mocking nickname could set off a world war.
But when Trump has the chance to return to his natural state as troll-in-chief, he takes it. He loves the barbs, the reaction, the aftermath. It’s what makes him go at some level, what he truly enjoys about politics. It’s also when he is at his best, the closest representation of the person 60+ million people voted for – a brash, unapologetic pot-stirrer who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him.
That’s the Trump who took the stage in Atlanta on Friday. And it’s the one you should expect to see Saturday night in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, too.