From the very beginning of his presidential bid, Trump’s campaign events have had a certain carnival-like quality, with stump speeches that are part talk-radio tirade, part insult-comedy routine. The shtick was outlandish even for an upstart candidate. But whereas most presidents tend to mute their rhetoric once they reach the Oval Office, Trump has only turned up the volume as president. To watch his rallies throughout the 2018 midterm campaign was to feel as though anything might happen. Maybe he would tee off on supposedly unpatriotic football players. Maybe he would debut a new taunting nickname for a Democratic politician. Maybe he would pull Sean Hannity onto the stage.
Still, even by these standards, Trump’s Southaven performance was astonishing: During the efflorescence of the #MeToo movement, here was the president of the United States derisively mocking a reluctantly testifying private citizen who said that she’d been sexually assaulted, a woman whose testimony even many Kavanaugh defenders conceded seemed credible (even if, they said, she was misremembering who her assaulter had been). As the audience roared its support, Trump once again demonstrated his preternatural ability to read a room and rile a crowd—and his willingness to say things that most other people, to say nothing of most other presidents, would be chary to express in polite company.